Tuesday, May 19, 2009

GAO reports children with disabilities being restrained, confined against will

In a report issued today by the Government Accountability Office, some schools are said to be restraining and confining children with disabilities against their will to control their behavior as a form of intervention. They report hundreds of allegations of abuse over the past ten years, sometimes resulting in injury or death. Texas and California public schools recorded a combined 33,095 instances in the past school year alone, USA Today reports.

In one case, a New York school confined a 9-year-old with learning disabilities to a "small, dirty room" 75 times in six months for whistling, slouching and hand-waving. In another, a Florida teacher's aide gagged and duct-taped five misbehaving children to their desks; and police say a 14-year-old boy died when a special-education teacher in Texas lay on top of the student when he would not stay seated. Police ruled it a homicide, but a grand jury rejected criminal charges. via USAToday.com

Training is only required in seven out of the fifty states for use of these methods by teachers. No federal regulations are in place, including any requirement to report deaths ensuing from these practices, according to testimony by a GAO official, who has found at least 20 deaths have occurred.

Yet, in cases involving nonverbal children, parents often have no way to know what took place at school.

Bill East, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, says the techniques, if used properly, "can and should be used" in a few instances, such as when a student is a threat to himself or others.

Congressional hearings are being held today after the Disability Rights Network, a Washington DC advocacy group, canvassed states and found instances of injury and death. In his opening remarks, Rep. Miller, who asked for the report stated:

"Recent news reports document appalling stories of teachers tying children to chairs, taping their mouths shut, using handcuffs, denying them food, fracturing bones, locking them in small dark spaces, and sitting on them until they turn blue.

One might start to wonder what could possibly cause a teacher or classroom aide to abuse a child this way. Well, we know what these children did: They fidgeted in their chairs or they were unwilling to follow directions."

Related: Restraint can dispirit and hurt special-ed students

GAO Report:Special needs kids abused in schools

Press release from Wisconsin about PBIS as alternative to restraint and seclusion

Video showing images of injuries to children and seclusion rooms used in various states.


Jessica said...

Hi, I'm a new reader :) I also saw another story about this - on NPR, I think. This really shocks and saddens me. I used to work in a hospital, and they took the use of restraints extremely seriously...in the rare circumstances that they needed to be used (and those do exist) you needed a doctor's order and it had to be meticulously documented in the chart. To think that public schools, that my tax dollars go to, can get away with using horrific methods of discipline like this is not right,especially in cases of children with developmental delay or behavioral difficulties who may not be able to articulate their needs.

Wheelie Catholic said...

Welcome, Jessica :) I appreciate you sharing your experiences in a hospital setting! I'm so glad that this issue is being brought into the public forum.

Full Tilt said...

I also worked briefly in settings where medical orders for the use of restraints and meticulous documentation governed the day. Restraints were used as a last resoert and never as an effort to punish, generally to stop or prevent injury.

As a disabled woman who has experienced discrimination in the public schools in my area while training to teach, I am appalled that children are handled in this manner and I believe much of this could be eliminated by further education, training and having teacher candidates checked for criminal activity, signs of anger management problems and psychological make up. While school systems check criminal background, they don't spend a lot of time training and educating teachers about the vast array of disabilities and how to handle behavior problems and from my own experience, I can tell you that my college of education offered some course work in this area, but not to the extent needed.

I am also glad to see the issue brought out. I think the roots of this problem come from extreme frustration, lack of knowledge and poor attitudes towards disabled kids and adults with disabilities.

Wheelie Catholic said...

Full Tilt-
Appreciate you sharing your experiences in this area. During the hearing today, I was hoping to hear suggestions along the lines of what you just wrote. Hopefully, further discussions will go deeper into solutions.