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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?

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