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“Something is Very Wrong When Our Children Are at Risk in School”

by Wrightslaw

A 14-year old student in a special education classroom in Texas, Cedric lived with a foster family because of a history of neglect, including malnutrition. One day in 2002, his teacher tried to punish him by withholding food, despite the abuse he had suffered as a young child.

Cedric’s teacher delayed his lunch for hours to discipline him for not doing his work. When he didn’t comply with her demands, his teacher put him in a face-down restraint and sat on him in front of his classmates. Cedric said repeatedly that he could not breathe. He died minutes later on the classroom floor as his terrified classmates watched.

Cedric’s tragic story isn’t an isolated case in America’s schools.

In California cas, Paige, a young girl with Asperger’s syndrome, was restrained because she was wiggling her loose tooth. Her mother, who had never consented to physical interventions, did not know her daughter was being restrained frequently until her daughter came home with bruises. (see Outlaw child abuse in schools,” link below).

Local newspapers recount chilling stories of children tied to chairs, children whose mouths are taped shut, children locked in dark closets, and children pinned to the floor for hours (see Teacher Fired, Isolation Room Closed, Lawsuit Pending and  Physical Restraint of Medically Fragile Child).

What would happen if parents treated their children this way?

Disability Rights Report on Child Abuse in School Triggers GAO Investigation

In January 2009, George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee requested an investigation by Government Accountability Office (GAO) after the National Disability Rights Network released a report, School is Not Supposed to Hurt, that highlighted these abuses.

In May, the  GAO released a  report that documented thousands of children being abused at school. In some cases, school staff used ropes, duct tape, chairs with straps and bungee cords to restrain or isolate young children. Although restraint and seclusion should only be used in situations of imminent danger, the GAO found that:

  • many school staff who use restraint and seclusion have not been trained
  • restraint and seclusion are used as routine discipline, not in response to an emergency
  • restraint can be fatal when it restricts breathing
  • most abused children had disabilities; some died.

Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion Act (H.R. 4247)

On Wednesday, December 9,  George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247). This legislation  is intended to protect children from the harmful use of restraint and seclusion at school. Senator Chris Dodd D-CT) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

Children Suffering Abuse and Torture in Their Classrooms

“Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms,” said Miller. “In some cases, the abuses these kids are suffering are nothing short of torture inflicted at the hands of the very staff we entrust with their safety.”

“The GAO found that children’s lives was threatened, even when they were not a threat to others. This behavior, in some instances, looks like torture. The current situation is unacceptable and cannot continue. Today is a critical first step toward finally ending this nightmare of abuse and ensuring that all classrooms are safe for students, their teachers, and the entire school communities.”

Senator Dodd said, “The tragedies associated with the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint are not only unacceptable, they are unconscionable …

“There is no place in our schools for torture, and we need clear standards for the use of tactics that lead to the physical and psychological abuse of children. This legislation will set clear guidelines so that children and educators alike can be sure of a safe learning environment.”

Federal Laws Do Not Protect Children from Abuse at School

Unlike hospitals and other medical and community-based facilities that receive federal funding, federal laws do not address restraint and seclusion in schools.

The Children’s Health Act of 2000 regulates how and when restraint and seclusion can be used on children in hospitals, and other medical settings. Schools are not covered under that law.

Because there are no federal standards,  most states do not protect children from abuse at school and do keep records of restraints and seclusion. Nor do the states provide training in behavioral interventions for school staff. Many states have no regulations at all. What happens? Children are vulnerable and at-risk, school staff are untrained.

The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247) will establish federal standards to protect students from misuse of restraint and seclusion. The law will apply to public schools, private schools and preschools that receive federal education support. The Education and Labor Committee plans to mark up the bill early next year.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Is this bill as good as it needs to be? What changes should Congress make in the Bill to improve it?

Next week, we will publish a comprehensive article about the Protecting Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. If you subscribe to The Special Ed Advocate, you will receive a link to that article and additional  information about this Bill
To view a fact sheet on the legislation, click here.

Full text of the GAO Report, Seclusions And Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse ta Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers.

Outlaw Child Abuse in Schools (Op-Ed y George Cathy McMorris Rodgers,

Teacher Fired, Isolation Room Closed, Lawsuit Pending. This video from a school surveillance tape shows a teacher dragging a 14 year boy down a hallway and throwing him into a seclusion room. Surely, other school staff member are aware of these incidents. Why are they silent?

Abuse, Restraints and Seclusion in School – Comprehensive listing of articles, reports, position papers, school abuse cases, and information about positive behavioral support.

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25 Comments on "“Something is Very Wrong When Our Children Are at Risk in School”"


My son is scared to death of school He was bullied at the latch key program. The other student was finally removed after 5 months. Now my son is afraid to go to the point where he throws up in the car. His teacher will not let him see the nurse.I took him to the nurse & when we left the nurse’s station, the security guard grabbed my son and drug him down the hallway crying and screaming for my help. Embarrasing him in front of everyone. Next day the principal grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out of my car. The principal makes it a nightmare for me to check on my sons class. When I take him to see the nurse, she leaves and the principal, who knows my son is afraid of him, comes in and hovers over my son & takes his temperature, while my son shakes in fear. I asked him to leave, he put his hands on his chest saying this is my school!


This abuse has to stop!!! Are babies are being hurt,and even killed. Something has to change,and soon


Protect Children by Supporting the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act

By signing the petition your U.S. Legislatures will be contacted.

Please click on the link below to sign the “STOP” restraint and seclusion petition


Cody was 11 when we moved to West Virginia. He is diagnosed with Aspergers disease, Bipolar, ADHD, OCD, ODD. He was attending Middle School. After we had decided to move there because of my husbands job, I called the school (we were in Michigan) and talked to the special education director and explained about my son and his needs. Come the day for school they acted like they did not know what I was talking about and stated they could not have a para pro for him until they could see a need. Well that was my first clue that they was not going to accept anything I tell them about how to handle my son.
For the six months he attended that school, my son was in school 10 days because they kept sending him home. They called the cops on him. Twice 4 adults sat on him and abused him to the point he was full of bruises.


Safe Schools monitoring and enforcement

I forgot to mention that at the time my son’s placement was changed to a locked storage closet, the Office of Civil Rights and the State Department of Education were involved.

Compensatory educational hours were ordered by both agencies. The school’s attorney and staff were providing information to both agencies due to a finding of denial of FAPE.

….Not to mention Prior Written Notice from their attorney indicating that the district refuses to provide staff to provide instruction in our home after the IEP team agreed that his placement should be in our home due to 0 progress being made in their make-shift placement.

There is no logical reason that the OCR and SDE investigators were not in a position to protect my son during such retaliation efforts.