Legal violence against children

Broken bones, bloody noses, dark closets, duct taped wrists — all part of U.S. schools’ restraints of unruly children, as documented in a June 19 Pro Publica report. Children with emotional disabilities make up the majority of those subjected to restraints and seclusion. Federal data shows that restraint and seclusion were used more than 267,000 times in 2012. The federal numbers understate the practices, because only one-third of the nation’s school districts reported any instances of restraint or seclusion.

Sometimes seclusion or restraint is needed to protect the child, or people in the classroom. Too often, the practices go beyond what is necessary, reasonable or safe. From the Pro Publica report, an account of “restraint” of a 10-year-old autistic boy in a locked room with “cinder block walls, a dim light and a fan in the ceiling that rattled so insistently her son would beg them to silence it.”

“The room that officials benignly called the ‘quiet area’ so agitated the tall and lanky blond boy that one day in March 2011, his mother said, Carson flew into a panic at the mere suggestion of being confined there after an outburst. He had lashed out, hitting, scratching and hurling his shoes. Staff members held him down, then muscled him through the hallway and attempted to lock him in, yet again.

“But this time, the effort went awry. Staffers crushed Carson’s hand while trying to slam the door. A surgeon later needed to operate to close the bleeding half-moon a bolt had punched into his left palm. The wound was so deep it exposed bone.”

Closer to home

So what goes on in Minnesota? It’s hard to say.

A 2012 Minnesota Department of Education report focused primarily on the use of prone restraint (child restrained while face-down on the floor), which can pose a danger to the child. The report noted that

“Although districts are required to maintain data on their use of restrictive procedures, including physical holding or seclusion, they are not required to report this data to MDE. As a result, the agency is unable to provide policy-makers with data to substantiate what percentage of the overall incidence of restrictive procedures is reflected in the data specific to prone restraint, or to provide the Legislature with data that reflects the incidence of use of other restrictive procedures in emergency situations.”

The Pro Publica report shows Minnesota with laws restricting the use of restraints on disabled children.

  • Is the use of restraints limited to emergencies? Only for disabled students – and the statute refers to “physical holding” rather than “restraint.”
  • Is the use of seclusions limited to emergencies? Only for disabled students.
  • Is parental notification of either practice required? Only for disabled students.
  • Is the use of seclusions prohibited? No.
  • Are restraints that restrict breathing banned? Only for disabled students – after August 2015.
  • Are mechanical restraints prohibited? No.

Minneapolis and St. Paul

The federal Office of Civil Rights data shows no restraints or seclusion reported by the Minneapolis Public School District. The Pro Publica report notes that only one-third of U.S. districts report use of restraints or seclusion, and that the most likely reason is that the other two-thirds of the districts are simply not reporting.

St. Paul reported to the Office of Civil Rights that 369 students with disabilities were subjected to physical restraint in the 2011 school year, and 208 were subjected to seclusion. The district did not report any physical restraint or seclusion of non-disabled students. Most of the students subject to physical restraint or exclusion were black students.  The tables below are generated from the federal Office of Civil Rights data.

One conclusion for Minnesota: we need better reporting, to know what is actually happening.

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