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

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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.

  1. My son is 17 years old he is mentally retarded autistic. he was hurt at school yesterday. he has rug burns on his face and arm. the school said that they had to restrain him. i dont know what to do.

  2. My son is a 11 year old disability child, who has autism, adhd, with disruptive behavior, and has mr, a low iq, plus as a young child his biological father abused him, and thru the time in elementary school he was treated so horribly from the teacher, I just recently found out. This past Friday he had a melt down pulled teacher hair and hit her. I pick him up and he has a bruises on forehead, and both arms. My child was hurting I sent him to er to get checked called police and now an investigation going on. What is more terrifying about this is it has mentally and emotionally affected my child. He is not wanting to eat much, he wakes up with nightmare, this is not right. Something has to be done.

  3. 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!

    • Did you hire lawyer to sue them? if not please do it now even this happened in year 2012, Supreme court will take this case within 10 years.

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. My son has been abused on 3 seperate occasions this year, that we are aware of. In August he was verbally and physically abused by an adult special education bus monitor. My husband and I viewed the video. We contacted GA Sheriffs Department, 2 investigators viewed the video and called the GBI in to investigate. The Assistant DA met the Agents at the door and stated he found no criminal acts. My son was also abused by his male special ed teacher on two seperate occasions. We filed a police report, documented everything with photos, this includes the teacher’s admission of restraining him. The Police Department “couldn’t find a suspect…”
    My son was 13 when these events occurred. He has the dual diagnosis of Fragile X syndrome and Autism, he weighs 70 lbs and stands at 4ft 3inc.

  8. Pam

    In 2004, prior to it being against the law to abuse children in the schools, my son was assaulted by a staff member on more than one occasion. Addressed by a storage closet placement in the school. See COPAA report from May 2009

    Even though there were no laws in place to protect him, the psychological wounds began to be exposed.

    He is now dual enrolled and in a safe environment. The same school district that opted not to protect him continues to assume the role as bully by creating a way to reduce his final grade as an otherwise Straight A student in the SACS accredited school that he attends.

    Administrative bullying/retaliation needs to be stopped in our schools.

    Ongoing counseling continues to address this widely accepted practice, and their residual effects.

  9. I cannot believe that this type of abuse goes on today in our schools. I am currently going for my Ph.D in special education and I shared this article with all my colleagues. People need to be aware of what goes on and parents need to be actively involved in the schools (although you would think this would be a safe haven for them) I think a big problem is lack of training that teacher’s have when it comes to dealing with behaviors. One of the reasons I am going for my Ph.D is to effect change in special education and handling behaviors appropriatley is one of the areas that needs change along with many others.

  10. Yesterday’s issue of the Special Ed Advocate newsletter includes an article, “Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247)” by Jess Butler, Esq. Jess describes the provisions of the proposed legislation, safeguards, what is prohibited, how it will affect children with disabilities, and the requirements for compliance and data reporting. Here is a link to the newsletter and Jess’ article:

    As H.R. 4247 moves thru the House and Senate, there will be attempts to weaken it. Parents, caretakers and advocates may need to make their views clear to Congress. We will send an alert to newsletter subscribers about what you need to do. If you are not on our subscriber’s list, you can subscribe now.

  11. Restraints are being used in many non-profit schools/organizations, as well as Intermediate Units in Pennsylvania. As a matter , it is a requirement to take PCM/CPI requiring restraints. There has to be a way to stop this, especially when staff is not properly trained. My first instinct is that you don’t put your handson a child. You need to them. The moment you put your hands on a child, it only escalates the behavior. I am sick and disgusted with what is happening to our children. Adults are losing their tempers extremely fast, when all they have to do is talk to the child. I don’t know where we went wrong, but any person working in education or with children should lose their license for doing what they are doing. The school /organization should be shut down for allowing this.
    What about schools that are not up to code?

  12. When my daughter was 6, her special ed teacher was known as having a temper. We were told, “she is a great teacher, good for the kids!” My daughter told me her teacher was mean, and hurt her.I walked in one day as the teacher was yelling at my daughter, forcefully grabbing her arms. Her crime: crying for her mom! I was furious! When the teacher saw me, she changed her demeanor.I confronted her but did not take it further for fear of retaliation. Well, fast forward 1 month later, and social services was at my door responding to a complaint from “someone at school” that my daughter was being abused at home.We went through such trouble to clear our names. I reported the teacher, but nothing was ever done. The aides in the classroom feared losing their jobs if they spoke up. When the teacher resigned a year I couldn’t have been happier

    • -My heart goes out to the schools who can’t afford stuff, the food drive; low education. Someone who is adopting Faith (born on August 21 in Ukraine) wrote that low education hurt Faith while she was in Kiev. Keep in mind that schools have low education. And that the Ukraine is really poor.

  13. My 5 y.o. son was locked in a storage cupboard for 18 months. It had no inside handles, was locked, tiny and had no light or window. This was in a public school Sp. Ed. class in California. During that time he regressed, lost all speech and tantrummed wildly. Since he was bussed in from the coast 2 and a half hours each way I was unble to visit the school often. I finally went to do a surprise visit and found him in there. He also was put in a cold shower with his clothes on.
    At home he kept drawing black boxes…..
    I am still furious! ALL BEHAVIOR IS A COMMUNICATION!!!!
    Currently my son has graduated from a top high school and has written two good sci-fi books.
    Good teachers don’t need this Modus Operandi. My son used to be controlled later when his excellent acting teacher would look his way and arch an eyebrow!

  14. In SC,
    Injuries and photos that were reported to the Director of Special Services were addressed by adding “Other offense” to the child’s discipline report. Other offenses was explained as a code that indicates that the child is on an IEP.

    IEP minutes indicate that the school’s attorney will contact law enforcement to address injury to a child in the school and ensure that other kids are not in danger.

    To date, the district and their attorney “opted” not to be a mandated reporter of injury to a child.

    We need a different guard at the hen house.

    • We are in s.c. as well and suspect a teacher of this. What should we do? Will they just say its us and call DSS and say its us? I mean its not like they are going to admit they are abusing my nonverbal 7 year old daughter…

  15. I hope that the new law is enforced by the Department of Justice where it is already against the law to abuse children.

  16. In Vermont there is a principal believed to be, the first in the State charged for failure to report child abuse happening in the school.
    His penalty is a maximum $500.00 fine. Jury selection for his trial is slated for January 12, 2010 on the court calendar. To date, he is still employed by the district and actively working at the school as the principal.


  17. The Dept. of Education “Dear Colleague” dated July 25, 2000 talks about Disability Harrassment as a denial of civil rights and a denial of FAPE (which pre-dates this study). Since there is no accountability for teacher licensing from state to state and abuse is apparently hard to prove under individual state laws (and teachers are not held individually liable even for denial of consitutional issues……like the case in AZ), would it be helpful to address this as a civil rights issue against the school districts? Certainly, these are hostile environments for children with disabilities. May be off base but……it appears that parents need a new approach………..thinking out loud

  18. I wanted to make readers aware that the teacher who killed Cedric in Texas was working as a special education teacher in Loudoun County, Virginia at the time of the EdLabor hearing on Capitol Hill May 19, 2009. Ironically, the superintendent of Loudoun County was herself slated to give public comment during the hearing, but when this teacher was discovered to be teaching in her district, she withdrew. The teacher was put immediately on administrative leave, however the issue remains how was she able to murder a student and then be back in a classroom “teaching” in Virginia?! Where are the safeguards and protections for our children in schools in Virginia?

  19. This topic makes me sick to hear and read about, but it is so very important that someone address it and make it impossible for adults to abuse the most defenseless children. I am the mom of two kids on the autism spectrum, one who is non-verbal. I would not easily know if my daughter were being abused because she cannot tell me with words.

    Trust is a very fragile thing. You want to believe that the schools have youir child’s best interest at heart, and mostly they do. However, it takes one deranged individual to destroy that trust and in many cases, change a family’s life forever when a tragedy occurs.

    I am sure my kids are safe where they are, but legislation is certainly a welcome thing when the safety of our special needs children is in question.

  20. This 22-year-old young man was abused 13 years ago by my school principal. Our principal has found new and creative ways to abuse students with disabilities, including my own children, and seems to be fixated on creating emotional disturbances in young children. CCPS knows about these abuses but refuses to do anything about them. They are kept undercover and parents are told to stop making “false allegations” when they report abuse and neglect. When parents report suspected abuse and neglect, ,we are asking for investigation, but we are intimidated to be quiet and stop making false allegations. This young man was restrained almost every day in elementary school. His and hip shoulder joints are permanently arthritic at age 22.

  21. I think the teacher and aid contracts need to allow teachers and aids to come forward to alert parents of dangers to their children (whether their child is the perpetrator or not ), without fear of losing their job, especially if their appeals to their superiors are not met.

    My daughter was in a situation where she was not hurt but aids and teachers were hurt for over a year. The district took no action until I learned about the incident from a teacher whose nose was broken.
    Likewise, I think aids should be able to report an aid or teacher who is physically or psychologically abusive to the parents, without the fear of losing their job.
    This law would drastically reduce these incidents in our schools because my daughter who had DS cannot communicate.

  22. I am guardian of a brain injured child who was a victim of shaken baby sydrome. Joshua was suppose to be in Summer School for help with his reading. He was put in a class with a teacher who was to help him with behavior and social skills as well. When the teacher thought Joshua’s sense of humor or disregard for her authority was disrespectful, she became angry and I believe lost control.

    Joshua got off the bus and began to cry that his teacher hurt him, that she twisted his arms… He was visibly upset. I called the school and his case worker. The next day I had a meeting at his school with the special ed coordinator and the teacher. It was obvious that Joshua was not taken seriously. Shortly after that, I discovered bruising on Joshua. To me, that proved what he said was the truth.

  23. Charter schools frequently hire teachers who are not certified in special education, and often are not even teachers certified by the state to teach any subject at any level. These people are called alternatively certified or temporarily certified. Some states even give these people waivers so they can teach special education students. Shame on school administrators for not hiring properly certified special education teachers!

  24. Hello,

    My son, Matthew, is one of the cases being presented. He was duct taped on several occasions and sent home with it still on him. The school district, SELPA, police, and the Supt. of schools did nothing to punish these individuals. They continue to conduct themselves without concern for our children. I have my IEP’s on tape. The director of SELPA at the time, stated that she did NOT report it to the state. My son was 5 and is now 13 and it has affected hiim throughout his educational carreer.

  25. At first view, this bill is too flawed to be of much use. I’m having experts review it, but we all agree at the outset that:

    1. Leaving enforcement to US DOE in its typical enforcement mode re anything to do with kids who have disabilities is a sure guarantee of no enforcement at all.

    2. Seclusion was flatly outlawed in the Willowbrook consent decree over 30 years ago. Any bill which permits seclusion, by whatever name, is simply reversing 3 decades of progress.

    3. Allowing a school staffer to do anything at all to a child with a disability which, if a parent did it, could result in child abuse charges is simply authorizing and excusing abuse solely because it’s a school person doing it. But research shows that the intent of the abuser makes no difference to the victim. Are we protecting children or school folk here?

  26. WOW!!! Reading this made me cry. George Milller is in my district. I am happy that someone in congress finally stepped up to this. This is terrible.
    Now if we can do something about the verbal abuse both students and parents have to take from teachers and staff we will win! It absolutly amazes me every time I read something new. How has our society come to this? I would think that it is just common sense. Thank you wrights law for keeping us informed

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