Handcuffing children who act out in elementary school

August 5, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against a deputy sheriff for handcuffing two children, ages 8 and 9, in separate incidents at the Latonia Elementary School in Covington, Kentucky. The ACLU is representing both sets of parents.

The 8-year-old is a Latino male and the 9-year-old is an African American girl. Both suffer from ADHD and were acting out in a manner that is consistent and expected from children with that diagnosis. The deputy sheriff is a School Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to the school. He has been accused of handcuffing the boy by his biceps for 15 minutes and handcuffing the girl for 30 minutes.

The Christian Science Monitor reports,

According to Sumner [the officer], the boy — identified only as S.R. — refused to sit down when Sumner told him too and then attempted to hit Sumner. In a separate incident, Sumner says that the girl – identified as L.G. – refused to follow teachers’ instructions and tried to leave her classroom. The teachers then called Sumner who handcuffed her.

The ACLU released cell phone video which captured Sumner speaking to the boy, who is handcuffed by his biceps in a chair.

The ACLU did not sue the school district because it is covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Act prohibits suing a school district before all administrative remedies have been exhausted, including an effort to negotiate a settlement.

As you might expect, the exhaustion-of-remedies rule operates as an effective procedural bar to obtaining justice for most civil rights violations. Moreover, the deputy sheriff in this case may be immune from suit because of the doctrine of qualified immunity that protects public officials from being sued for damages unless they violated “clearly established” law that a reasonable official in his position would have known.

In this case, I think the teacher is more responsible for what happened than the officer because the teacher is better equipped by education and training to manage students. Police only know how to use force.

You would be mistaken if you think these two incidents are rare. The Monitor article continues,

Recent data reported to the Department of Justice by the school districts indicates that about 52,500 children with disabilities each year are subject to physical restraint (being held down by someone), while almost 4,000 children with disabilities are subject to ‘mechanical restraint’ such as handcuffs

The widespread use of physical restraint against children with disabilities is part of the School-to-Prison Pipeline that we will be writing about in future articles.

We started assigning police to schools after Columbine in order to protect students from mass shootings. Now they have become a one-stop solution for every problem, no matter how trivial.



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