The Wrightslaw Way

to Special Education Law and Advocacy

The Wrightslaw Way random header image

Handcuffs? Bruises? Disability Rights Files Suit Against Wake County Schools

by Wrightslaw

On Thursday, September 18, Pete and Pam presented a special education law and advocacy training program in Chapel Hill, NC. After checking in, we picked up an email from an old friend who advised that  Disability Rights of North Carolina (DRNC) had just filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Wake County Board of Education (Thanks, David). The complaint alleged that children with autism were . . .

. . . improperly restrained in class, including a child in handcuffs and a child returning home from school with bruises. Another child developed migraine headaches and panic attacks after witnessing the handcuffs and physical restraints used on classmates at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh.

Carroll Middle School

Disability Rights also learned that a vacant classroom, the “WWF room,” was used for students to wrestle with one another and with teaching assistants to “release aggression.” (Editor’s note: We’d like to see the research that supports this practice.) 

Disability Rights of North Carolina initiated the lawsuit after Wake County Public Schools refused to cooperate in their investigation of “serious allegations of abuse and neglect of students in that classroom” and “use of improper restraints in the classroom for children with autism at Carroll Middle School.”

Citing “privacy concerns,” Wake County refused to provide requested information and refused to allow DRNC to interview their staff and students in the classroom. 

Disability Rights of North Carolina is the state and federally designated Protection and Advocacy System for people with disabilities in North Carolina. The statutory mandate of DRNC is to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities.

This case is similar to two abuse cases decided in 2006: 

Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities v. Hartford Bd of Educ, Hartford Public Schools and Robert Henry, Sup. of Schools (2nd Cir. 2006) 

Disability Rights Wisconsin, Inc. v. Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction & Elizabeth Burmaster, Superintendent of Public Instruction (7th Cir. 2006). 

How did the federal appeals courts rule in these cases?

You’ll find the answers and decisions at Caselaw: Abuse, Neglect, Restraints, Seclusion in Public Schools.

More Information: Disability Rights v. Wake County Public Schools

Disability rights group sues Wake school board – Video from WRAL

Disability rights group sues Wake school board, news article from WRAL

Complaint in DRNC v. Wake County Bd. of Ed. and Robert Sturey, Director of Special Education

Print Friendly

Tags:   · · · · 36 Comments

Leave a Reply

36 Comments on "Handcuffs? Bruises? Disability Rights Files Suit Against Wake County Schools"


I have a son that is 13 years old, he is autistic, bipolar, adhd and tourettes and a few other medical problems. Is it legal for a school cop to handcuff them to a chair? There was a problem recently where my son had an episode and a cop handcuffed him to a chair. It made him worse at the time and truamatized him for a few days. I still have trouble with this officer. Is there anyone that can give me advice? The school he goes to is no help. The school he goes to isn’t very good with children with special needs.


This is disappointing. My Kindergartener is a wcpss student and was rushed to the hospital in Jan with a massive wound on his forehead. Took internal and external stiches to repair and he’ll have a very visable scar for life. His injury was caused by a child with special needs who needs to be restrained and removed from the class at least 1-2 times a week. The child threw a toy at my son’s face in a fit of rage. My son will wear a scar on his face for life due to the way wcpss handles children with special needs. This other child is a wolf among sheep in that kindergarten class and the school knew it, it was simply cheaper to mix him in with all the others. The school is not willing to pay our $3k in med bills and their Ins has denied it. The child’s parents have also denied paying, they consider it typical behavior for a kindergartener.


I found my son mechanically restrained in a prone position with his hands on his back on Oct. 14th. The school personnell stated they did this because he would not walk into school. My son has never been aggressive to himself or others and yet they did this. The school never notified us or got our approval and later we found out that they were doing this to him since Sept. 7, 2011 until Oct. 14th when I walked in and found him like this. The school called it a transport system. Our states attorney’s office will not prosecute because he did not feel that the school intended to harm him. How can a school get away with abuse and suffer no ramifications? The police report states he was placed in danger of positional asphyxia but there was no criminal intent. How can that be?


Follow the advice from Wrightslaw: “You need to document everything – your questions, your concerns, what you are told and everything you learn. Make a log and jot things down. Then document this information in a follow-up letter. The letter should describe what happened and ask what steps the school is taking to ensure that this never happens again.”

Also they may file a complaint with the local police for child abuse. In many states the dept of children & families (DCF) handles all child abuse complaints. In my state this would be an “institutional complaint” of child neglect/abuse that would be filed with both police and DCF.

FYI–compound fracture means an open fracture where the bone was sticking out of the skin. A fracture does not need to be open/compound to be bad enough to require emergency surgery.


I just learned today, that my friend’s son, who has Autism and ADHD, was physically abused by the Prinicpal at his school on Thursday. His hand received a compound fracture and required immediate surgery and his foot was broken requiring a cast. Supposedly this all took place while the Prinicipal was putting him in a “seclusion” room. The child not only has physical injuries but severe emotional distress – panic attacks, nightmares – as a result. What can they do to get help in this case? The school did not even call an ambulance or outside medical aid for this child! The mother picked him up thinking he had a minor injury and had to immediately take him to the ER where they x-rayed and took him into immediate surgery! What can you do to help?