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

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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


  1. My now 8 year old son was restrained by his principal and came home with bruises when I asked to see nurse report there was none. I took him to his doc and they said it look like abuse the school refuses to stop restraining him so I took him and he is on homebound because of mental stress what rights do we have

  2. NC is the worst when it come to treating our disabled people like people. I want to get in on this but it’s to painful.

  3. My son was on his afternoon bus which is general ed however he has an IEP on file stating how he is to be addressed. The driver screaming in his face to move, threatening punishment of written repercussion( empty threat) returning the bus to school (most appropriate choice not done) called route supervisor, which elevated the problem then police which handcuffed my son (12 at the time) on the side of a busy road in front of his peers. My son was not responsive to the adults as he was placed in fear and traumatized. Also bruised from wrist to shoulders. There is no disciplin reports from the school, no police charges, my son was not at fault for any wrong doing but now suffers trauma and situational anxiety. The schools are refusing homebound service. Are they Violating FAPE??? No education

  4. I have a child that has been over-medicated for years while living in a group home because the Regional Center won’t grant her extra staffing support. Meanwhile, the County Vulnerable Adult Unit and County Sheriff Vulnerable Adult Unit can’t see how corrupt and ineffective the Regional Center is. My daughter has been forcibly given anti psychotics because the Regional Center won’t approve one to one care for her. The regional center has DENIED our request for one to one in her group home, the group home has gone to my daughter’s doctor and requested heavy SEDATION drugs to keep her calm, even though it’s documented that when she has ONE TO ONE care she does BETTER. Abuse of disabled is often covered up unless you have video evidence, and you send it to the news, nobody cares.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. DD–
    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.

  9. 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?

  10. Here in North Texas a student was restrained by staffers and left with bruises. SD wants to have MDR meeting soon. Parents are upset, child is a spec.ed /ohi adhd student. Where can they go for help? The child hates the school now and parents are afraid that the child will be suspended or placed in iss just to keep him documented as a behavior risk.

  11. Please tell me if there’s something like the DRNC in Virginia? My son left Kindergarten with marks (I took pictures) left by a MANDT-certified paraeducator who did not follow MANDT protocols. I went to the Sheriff’s dept and they did NOTHING but refer to the State Attorney’s office who said while they believed my son, it was his “word” versus the para’s. Ridiculous! Investigating officer had met my son previously when unbeknownst to me, the school called him to get my son out from under a table and my son kicked this officer in the chest (5 yr old terrified boy vs irritated school resource officer) so there was some prior bias there. The mark on my son’s wrist from having it bent backward on to his GPS unit was there for two days. This still burns my butt and breaks my heart.

  12. I work with special needs (Autistic) children and also I am the parent of a special needs child. After reading many of the postings I am appalled at the way your children are being treated and perceived. Please act now use an advocate to resolve these issues ASAP.

    My child was severely damaged mentally from just one year of school. The teacher in the classroom was horrendous and did not take into consideration the disabilities of my child (the type of class was a special education class). Luckily the following year he had a very caring and compassionate teacher and Para educator who brought him back from a very discouraged little boy to a happy and well adjusted child. This kind of treatment led me to pursue a career with special needs children. Everyone on the face of this earth deserves to be treated equally and hopefully someday this will be the case. I wish you well and hopefully the injustices towards our children will someday be wiped out.

  13. My daughter was restrained without my permission. A child in her class was the one who told me giggling, he said they tied her into a chair all day. I have had alot of problems with this school and now find her iep is void. There are so many errors in it. Please help!!! I fear she is not safe and if I dont send her to school I will have truancy charges filed against me. I’ve talked to the principal, the EC director at the EOB. Nothing I fear is working and now the restraints. She is not a threat to herself or any one else, she is a very loving child – to have this done to her without her being able to speak. What do I do? I want her out of there. Any suggestions?

    • Tabitha – You asked “what do I do?” I wish there was a simple answer. You have a number of issues to address: restraint at school, perhaps behavior/discipline issues, and a “void iep.” You said “I want her out of there?” If that is the case, where do you want your daughter to be educated?

      Wherever your child is educated, you need to be the expert about her disability, know your IDEA rights and responsibilities, and learn how to deal with conflict directly so you can negotiate acceptable solutions to problems.

      If you fear your child is being restrained at school, you may want to write a “no restraints” letter. Go to https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/abuse.index.htm. You can download a “no restraints” letter and tailor it to her situation. You will find much more information about restraints/abuse at schools.

      You said “nothing is working.” Start with this article “When the School Ignores Your Requests for Help” at https://www.wrightslaw.com/howey/iep.mtg.prepare.htm.

      You said you spoke with the principal and the EC Director. 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.

      Can you pinpoint why you think her IEP is void and what the errors are in the plan? Get this down on paper as well. You can request a meeting to review your child’s progress and revise the IEP if you feel her needs are not being met. Put your request for a meeting in writing in a letter that describes all of your concerns.

      Any/all Wrightslaw material is available for you – don’t hesitate to use the information, articles, resources you find on the Wrightslaw or Fetaweb sites. Remember your goal is to get the education and services she needs and protect the parent-school relationship. Your loving child needs you as her best advocate. You can do it.

  14. Our son was handcuffed and he had bruises plus two teeth were knocked loose. His bruises were on both arms and legs, nothing was ever done about it. I ended up in having our son removed from the school in our IEP and placed him in a private school. This school is one hour away from our home. So this means our son is on the high way for two hours each and every day to go to school and back home.

  15. my son is classified as LD and also has ADD, he also suffers from abdominal migraines, a few months ago he asked to use bathroom during class , teacher was annoyed when he left room to go to bathroom, the teacher asked the class “whats his medical problem why is he always in bathroom? ” she did this to embarass him, one student in my sons defense spoke of his condition, teacher replied there is no such thing as stomach migraines , when my son returned to class the students were all laughing at him , did the teacher have the right to question my sons condition isnt this a hippa violation, now the deans at the school are always picking on him and looking to give him detention for every little thing, is this allowed?

  16. Please help me! My child is not a child any longer, he’s 19. My son has been trained to stay home by himself. He is still in school and the bus will not let him off the bus by himself. The bus lets him off in front of the house, but the Special Education says, he can not be let off the bus without an adult being present. What are his rights now that he’s 19? Can he stop going to school if he wishes?

  17. this case goes way beyond the confines of the classroom. Say for example I justify a students right to take his aggression out in a classroom environment. I can guarrantee that if a court case such as this were to make this practice legal, that would be the downfall of our entire judical system. More4over, the downfall of our entire school system. Imagine, every school with a classroom which allows students to take out their agression, where would it stop? allowing students the right to take out their aggression violently in the classroom wouldn’t stop in the classroom, as it would be the same as legalizing a) school shootings and b) acts of violence when the child graduates from school, society is not only putting to death with lethal injections people like serial killers but putting more out there to take their places.

  18. Oh please does anyone know if a group like the DRNC exists in VA? Last year my dear autistic son came home with marks and swelling on his wrist from a highly trained para-educator’s restraint. It went beyond normal, and I got two different stories, one from my son, and one from school. I demanded a restraint report which was again different from what I was told. Finally my son who is verbal but clams up when upset came out and told me what happened. He wouldn’t go to the office with the para (new to him & had already caused an escalation in behavior, fully ignoring all the training he had received), so this man bent my son’s hand backwards to his arm, squeezing his GPS locator unit so hard on to his hand that marks were evident for 3 days. The CA said it was not that they believed nothing happened, just not enough to prosecute!!

  19. I am in desperate need of help, information anything that can give me hope. My son was diagnosed with ADD and made a bad choice in school. Now he is detained. No previous past record. HELP PLEASE.

  20. Upon my sons first year in middle school he was diagnosed as bipolar and ADHD. The principal at the school targeted my son and did everything he could to get him locked up. He now has several arrest records and no school wants him there. The school officials go out of the way to upset him and make him lash out so that they can file more police reports against. Although he now has an IEP, I don’t really like the fact that they can’t challenge his mind because he is in a contained class. This IEP was put into effect about a month or so before school ended. He was suspended the last ten days of school for swearing at a teacher. The IEP plan was not being followed then. He hadn’t been in this school a month. They are already trying to put him out. He has some of the highest FCAT scores within the school system.

  21. i need help with my sons school. he is on a iep and also is adhd. we have been going rounds with my sons school with bulling and also not doing an iep when it was due on 3/10/09. im in need of help and dont know where to turn to because of what has happend to my son at school. he wouldnt go so i had to go to court and the school still didnt want to help us. What should I do now?

    I contacted the governor’s office in NC and they will not do anything to help stop the injustice facing our children. I was told that I need to work with federal legislators to change the special ed law because the school system is not violating the law-they just have wide latitude to do what is obviously wrong and harmful to the child. Why can’t we fight the weak language in the law that allows the school system to interpret, execute and oversee their own compliance with the laws that are supposed to guarantee our children’s right to education? The law gives the schools so much power over implementation in each student’s case it is hard to believe this wasn’t an under-the-table deal so they could put something on the books to make it look like they were supporting these children & still please the powerful education lobby.

  23. Hello, my name is Tina and I am looking for info on the legal rights of the mentally challenged. My son was involved in an altercation and I feel he was severely mistreated, please help! Thanks Tina

  24. I feel very sad when I read these sad stories about the physical restraints.
    My son’s IEP is coming up and I surely will ask the… IBI agents to stop imposing improper restraints on my six-year-old son.
    To make sure the physical abuse must be terminated, I will take an attorney with me, and I will tape the whole meeting for a possible lawsuit if they don’t leave the kid alone. He is very smart, easy-going little boy who doesn’t have any behavior challenges.
    Well, the district has sent out many different IBI agents to experiment different methods of physical restraints on autistic children.
    Very sad.

  25. My wife and I are probably dealing with a similar situation at our son’s special education school, in MI. My son, came home last week with bruises on his upper arms (thumb and finger prints).

  26. I had a terrible encounter with the schools concerning my son in high school and my son suffers with 2 illnesses. One illness was due to an injury sustained one of the county high schools. He became disabled, went back to school and was in Special Education classes. I wrote letter to the board, school, etc. We contacted everyone and they did nothing. He was treated horribly and his rights were definitely violated. Can you tell me more about the agency that sued the school district and how to get the full article. They cover up a lot. I think we all need to write the new governor coming in about our experiences and our senators. No more children need to suffer at the hands of these people!

  27. I removed my son from public school earlier this year. The system is beyond despicable, Special Ed Division using their resources to help the schools in this county cover up their mistreatment of our children and their noncompliance with the law re: IDEA. They will lie and falsify reports to help schools avoid accountability. My son has Aspergers Syndrome and is very intelligent. I was told by the Special Ed professional during his Kindergarten year that he was uneducable and they would not waste time and resources attempting to teach him to read. I bought “Hooked on Phonics” and 6 weeks later he tested at a 1st grade 9th month reading level. Every time I see him reading, I thank God I didn’t listen to that professional and wonder how many parents are trusting these teachers.

  28. Denise: You should file an official compliant with the state department of education and send a copy to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. Your son is being deprived of access to participation in extra curricular activities which is part of public school education. The local school district has breached its obligation to provide him with a “Free Appropriate Public Education.” After you submit the complaint, the school district has 15 days to respond and attempt to settle the issue. If you and your son is not satisfied with the results, you have to the right to carry the issue to mediation or due process.

  29. This is beyond despicable! It is heinous.

    The physical abuse we can readily see as in this case. There is also emotional abuse being done by these “educators.” My disabled son told his counselor he wanted to go into the Marines, and the counselor responded that the only place my son was going to go was to prison. What compassion and professionalism! My son ended the school year on a suicide watch. There were a lot more incidences last year that would go way beyond the limit of 850 characters.

    This year my son is in a private school making A’s and B’s in college prepatory work. We are still working to undo the emotional damage and trauma that was done to him last year by SS. Thank goodness for his psychologist.

    I hope that criminal charges can be filed against the individuals that handcuffed the disabled student.

  30. i have an autistic child that is on the football team, he is segregated and left out, the coaches assume he cannot do what the other players are doing, he is a high function autistic child, he wants to be a part of the team. Coaches that are on the b team do not give him play because of his disability, one uncertified coach yanked him up out of frustration , i have this on film , wrongfully treated him. The assumption is that he is slow, slow reaction time in plays ,they really have no patience for him.They do not want to be patient and rather not have him to play. This kid is very bright and a lot of coaches think this is retardation. Please help or give me somewhere to get help.

    I need to know what my 11 year old’s rights are.

  31. Why in Idaho are our P& A firms not going after the schools when many parents have filed complaints of abuse and neglect with them. Could it be that the Attorney at the P&A is chairman of the Special Education Advisory Panel or was and appointed the schools attorney as an at large member?

    What can a parent do when there is so much corruption and the schools have bought up all the attorney’s?

  32. I have two boys that attend a school here in Indiana, a police officer at the school will come up behind them and others and apply pressure behind their ears, and sturnum and then laugh about it. The boys are not even aware of him when he comes from behind them, after he does it he begins to laugh about it. What can I do as a parent. They are both in ED classrooms, this is not right but how should I approach this and with whom should I take it up with?

  33. This kind of treatment to children with behavior issues that are part of their disabilities is happening all over Florida On Tuesday we had a 9 year old child arrested in Lee County because of her behavior issues and she is in a school for children with emotional and behavior issues. Restraint, seclusion, suspension and arrests are becoming a normal part of school programs in Florida for children with disabilities. parents are desperate for help. The only problem is that there is no help no matter which way we turn.

  34. No human being should be treated this way. Let alone taught that it is okay to hit another human being that only makes it harder for the caregivers in the home of this person to raise them. If you teach them it is okay to hit at school then it is okay to hit at home, at daycare, at afterschool programs, etc. When will this stop.

  35. David1
    Thanks for the encouragement and kind words. I am taking your
    advice and read from emotions and advocacy. Thanks Again!!


  36. FRUSTRATED!!!!!


    You are your child’s best advocate. When we began our on the job training, we could barely spell IDEA. Arm your self with knowledge of special education laws.

    Your external resources will be limited and are not necessary. You have the most knowledge about your child, you are available 24/7 and I think you will find your rates to be reasonable.

    From Emotions to Advocacy is a must read to help you polish your advocacy skills. You will be amazed at how much power you have as your child’s best advocate.

    You will be a Great advocate!

  37. FRUSTRATED!!!!!
    My daughter has ADD, considered boderline IQ, I have been
    fighting with the school for 4 years now to have my daughter placed in an appropirate program. We tried to get advocates, no returned phone calls. She is in 4th grade, 2nd grade reading level and failing math. We got an attorney. Filed a complaint to Bureau of Spec ED. I didn’t want to get the attorney but didn’t know what else to do. The L/S tech was quite angry towards usand know I am afraid that the repercussions are falling on and against my daughter, What should I do?????

  38. I’m so glad that DRNC has stepped in here. The level of “privacy” that Wake County continually sights as an excuse to exclude parents from observing a potential classroom to help determine placement to observing your own child in his own class is ridiculous and removes all accountability to the parent/public IMO! We as parents in this County should back DRNC and collectively demand entrance to schools to protect the rights of our children who are so vulnerable. Wake County operates from a fear based mentality. I was even told I couldn’t videotape my own son in my own home during a home hospital teacher session! When I sighted the law concerning videotaping in general and the fact that nanny cams and stoplight cams etc are common practice without consent needed, in our society and protected by law…..this arbitrary “policy” was never mentioned again and I videotaped. This County is NOT putting children’s best interests first as they are charged to do! Go DRNC!!!!

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

    It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

    I hope that the amount of money spent on school district attorneys will be made public in this case and that Congress has a close eye on this outcome for IDEA considerations next January.

    School district atorneys have been recieving way too much educational funds and this case is simply a side effect.

    If the school’s attorney fees were suspended until the parents loose in a Federal Court, Special Education Directors might begin making sensible dicision. Several hundred dollars an hour would go a long way towards educating and protecting our kids.

    If the parents win in Federal Court, they should be entitled to the amount allocated for the school district’s fees rather than the rate that the parents attorney charges.

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