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Abuse in Schools Turns Deadly

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Isolation rooms and chairs with restraining straps are the new tactics for keeping school kids in line.

A new type of teacher-child abuse is surfacing in the classroom--and it's not sexual. More and more educators are resorting to physical violence to discipline unruly kids--ending with some children even dying. Could this happen in your child's school?
Tim Miller, 12, told his father he didn't want to go to school because his teachers were trying to kill him.

Tim, who has Asperger's Syndrome, was often rowdy in class--on several occasions, his teachers held him on the floor for 20 minutes to calm him down. Tim's parents sued the school district for costs of therapy for their son as a result of the incidents, but the school insisted their teachers acted appropriately.

One teacher wrote: "Tim was screaming down the hall. He ran past me and began to double his fist to punch the locker. At this point, I scooped my arm underneath his and directed him into my room."

The teacher and another "laid him onto the mat, where he was held approximately 20 minutes," the report stated.

This is a growing problem as more parents of children with psychiatric problems are getting their kids into mainstream schools. Just last year, the public school system granted entrance to 600,000 more special education students than it did a decade ago, many in regular classrooms. And researchers say teachers just aren't trained to handle such severe behavior issues. As a result, educators are using dangerous discipline techniques like isolation rooms and restraining kids in chairs with straps.

Just consider a case in April where a 9-year-old Montreal student with autism suffocated to death after a special education teacher wrapped him in a weighted blanket to calm him down. Two Michigan autistic kids also died in school from similar forms of restraint.

One Dallas-based 11-year-old with ADD was picked up by his mom at a police station after being taken from the school in handcuffs for cursing at a teacher.  

"I didn't hear about it for hours and had to go get him at jail," his mother said. "He was hysterical, obviously, and he's had his ups and downs since then. It's hard to know what a thing like that does to a child that age."

One major problem is that states and school districts get to decide when to use physical restraints and isolation, and the definition of such is pretty broad. However, some states like Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are instituting stricter policies on the use of isolation and restraints. While New York, California, and Iowa are in talks to tighten their rules.

Experts say the use of force in schools is increasing at a rapid pace--at least one or two cases a week-with hypocrisy surrounding the situation. "It's an awful combination, because many parents expect restraints to be used -- as long as it's not their kid," said Reece L. Peterson, a professor of special education at the University of Nebraska.

Teachers feel overburdened by other duties and caring for one child with a disability can consume his or her attention and throw off the entire class (usually 35 children). Currently, federal law states teachers must develop a plan for every disabled student (tricks to ease a child's temper, or solutions for time-out), but if the child becomes violent, it's common for educators to resort to aggressive solutions.  

Investigators studied cases of school abuse in California and found during the 2005-2006 school year, an 8-year-old with attention deficit disorder and mental retardation was repeatedly locked in a "seclusion room" alone at least 31 times in a single year. His parents only heard about the incident from another parent, who saw the boy trying to escape.

In another school, a teacher held a 12-year-old with ADD "face down on the floor, straddling him at his hips, and holding his hands behind his back," according to the investigation.

Parents are furious, but also reluctant to report the school for fear of retaliation. As for the children, they often don't understated what is going on or why they are being punished--after all, many lack communication skills, even to tell their parents why they return from school with bruises. And the ramifications of the public humiliation and psychological abuse are usually unknown until later.

But with parents hesitant to report the school and teachers feeling powerless, a certain dichotomy presents itself. The parents of an 11-year-old who died while being held down called for a ban on restraints. But in another case, the parents sued the school for not restraining their son who ran away from teachers and ultimately drowned.

Some companies offer programs to teach management techniques to school staff, but until states designate exactly what techniques are acceptable, the use of force on children in schools will continue.

Do you think teachers should discipline with physical restraint, or should parents of special needs children send their kids to special education schools?

next: Stars: NOT Just Like Us
45 comments so far | Post a comment now
John P. Miller DPM July 20, 2008, 10:58 AM

Some children belong in a mainstream setting.
Some children with appropriate supports and interventions belong in a mainstream setting.
Some children do not belong in a mainstream setting, regardless of supports and interventions

Whether or not a child belongs in a mainstream setting does not justify or excuse any type of abuse and unnecessary endangerment with physical restraints as was done by my son and followed with attempted cover-up of such facts by his school.

John P. Miller DPM (Father of Tim in NY Times article by Ben Carey)

Flamom July 20, 2008, 5:57 PM

Restraint and Seclusion on Children with Disabilities in Florida Public Schools

There are many families from counties all over Florida who have children with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders that are being restrained, put in time-out and forced locked seclusion rooms in the public school system. Our children are being injured physically and mentally because of their disabilities and the lack of appropriate programs and highly qualified teachers and aides available to educate them. Most of the aides that are hired have little or no background in children with Autism.

Florida has no laws or regulations to protect our children from the over use of restraint and seclusion. Most school districts have no guidelines, no tracking system, no consent from parents and no parent notification in many cases.

Many of our children have little or no communication and the only way they can communicate is through behavior. Because school staff do not understand what our children are trying to say through behaviors, they are punished by being restrained, put in seclusion, time out or suspended. The trauma this has caused our children and the emotional drain to our families should never happen to any child or family.

Some of our schools are prone restraining children with Autism and emotional disabilities in Pre-K. That means they are prone restraining children as young as 3 years old. I can’t even imagine how terrified these children must be and what this is doing to them mentally and physically.

If you file a complaint with the FLDOE you are filing a complaint with them about them and nothing happens. It’s a broken process that many families have tried to get help from only to find that there is no help. And then there are the forged documents that they come up with to prove parents wrong. And let’s not forget about retaliation on parents if you speak up too much.

Because filing a complaint with the FLDOE is a waste of time parents have turned to Government agencies but still have not found any help. The answer is always the same. We have no authority over school districts. It seems that our public school districts can do whatever they want and not be held responsible.

The information below was presented by a Florida ESE Director on May 9, 2007 at a school board meeting.

What if we do not use PCM (Restraint) Procedures?
Increase in the number of students with disabilities being arrested
Increase in involuntary hospitalizations under the Baker Act
Student and staff injuries will increase
More School Police involvement
Increase in medications to include PRN medications

Restraint and seclusion is not a treatment, restraint and seclusion is the failure of treatment.

Deborah August 5, 2008, 1:40 AM

I have had experiences that range from “never heard of Aspergers” to yanking my son up by his ear and other physical abuse. Currently we are utilizing the spec ed services at our local school (because we have the choice and they are great)and meeting my sons educational needs online. We use online instead of the local schools online service because it is structured better but is also very flexible. Not everyone can educate their children at home but if it gets that bad (like it did for us) check out that option. The public schools do not have a say if you are in this program. It is the same as your local education and delivers a high school diploma just like other public schools. Oh yeah - it is free if it is available in your state.

arlena January 22, 2009, 12:50 PM

This comment is directed toward anynomous: First of all, I relize that the school district does not provide these supports for the teachers much less the students.
Yet these teachers do not fight for these supports. why is this? are you afraid to lose your job? If teachers and parents cannot work together then what is to become of the student?
That is why more and more parents are withdrawing their children to homeschool
alot more predictable and safer than to send your child to school to suffer abuse and torture at the hands of untrained professionals.

arlena January 22, 2009, 1:32 PM


do you actually use that as an excuse to keep restraining children? My 35lb 5 year old son was prone restrained by the special education teacher and the regular education teacher. For what? Repeatedly throwing a pencil on the floor before going outside prior tho a firedrill, when he was’nt suppossed to be kept inside as the firedrill sounded.
Knowing he had sensory intergration issues.
His regular education teacher did everything in her power to get him out of her class. And the Upseting thing was, her nephew was suppossed to had the same disorder my son had.
Teachers should be demanding supports from the school district. “No-Child-Left-Behind”? There is NO EXCUSE for restraining our children.

arlena January 22, 2009, 2:07 PM

Deborah , I am with you there, my son has high-functioning autism. I had to pull him out twice out of school. I am beginning to think that is the only option left. I do not want my son to go through the hell all over again.I say hell. Because that’s what it was.
Best regards,

arlena January 22, 2009, 2:21 PM


The school I where my son attended. Would’nt even let me past the front door after dropping my son off to school
much less contact me after they restrained my son.
How can a parent develope a trusting relationship with teachers and staff when for one: It is always the parents the last to know anything especially anything having to do with school policys. And with closed door policys that prevent the parent access to even viewing their childs educational records…How can a parent make the teacher their friend when they sit in a room and accuse the parent of being a bad parent?

another anonymous teacher May 31, 2009, 5:18 PM

I think anyone who has not taught in a classroom, has no idea what they are talking about. I teach special needs children, as well as having one at home. I have had my hand broken, my glasses broken, my jaw knocked out of place. I have been hit, kicked, scratched, bit, spit on, and peed on. I have had furniture thrown at me, and many many more things happen in my classroom. I would never touch a student unless he or she was in danger of hurting themselves or others. Also if my child was trying to hurt himself or someone else, I hope his teacher does everything in her power to protect him and the other students.

jacky  June 7, 2009, 5:24 AM

My son has been sat on belly flpped by 3 teachers at the age of roughly 8 and has just been found guilty of assault of a teacher after she put her arm round his waist pinched him to as she decribed do the procedure that is going up to his arm pit and twisting his arm if anyone can tell me if this is legal i would be grateful thankyou

Tara June 12, 2010, 10:07 PM

I am a college student, a special education assistant and a mother. This subject is very tough I know. I have a survey that I have made for my class that I am currently in regarding this issue so if you could fill it out I would be much obliged. All info. is confidential. Here’s the link:

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