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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Why Are Children Being Handcuffed at School?

by: Annie Urban

According to AlterNet, students at Capital City Alternative School in Mississippi are routinely handcuffed for hours as punishment for minor misbehavior. On June 8, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Jackson Public School District for allowing this type of punishment. The lawsuit was filed after the school district refused to respond to a letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center asking that this practice be stopped.

The AlterNet article gives some examples of the incidents where students were handcuffed to railings as a punishment:

  • One student was handcuffed all day for not wearing a belt. He even had to eat his lunch handcuffed.
  • Another student was handcuffed for hours for greeting a friend too loudly in the hallway.
  • A third student was handcuffed for wearing the wrong colored shoes. 
This is not the first time this has happened. There are many cases of schools using handcuffs or other restraints to punish children. Some examples include:
  • In July 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against officials at a Louisiana school for repeatedly handcuffing and shackling a 6-year-old child.
  • In May 2010, Police handcuffed a 10-year-old boy with autism at Oberon Public School in Geelong, Australia.
  • In December 2008, an 8-year-girl with Asperger's was handcuffed because she refused to take off a sweatshirt that she wanted to wear to the Christmas party.
  • In April 2011, a 7-year-old boy was handcuffed when he became upset while decorating Easter eggs at Public School 153 in Maspeth Long Island.
  • In 2004, a 10-year-old in Philidelphia was handcuffed and taken to a police station for having scissors in her bag, even though she hadn't threatened anyone with them or even displayed them.
These incidents are, unfortunately, even more common among children with disabilities. As our own Kristina Chew has written: "In other words, 'abusive practices' such as prone restraint were 'disproportionately' used on children who are disabled---on children whose needs and challenges, whose communicative and cognitive disabilities, are far greater than that of most."

Jody Owens, from the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mississippi office was quoted by AlterNet as saying: "Not only does this handcuffing policy violate the U.S. Constitution but it demonstrates a diseased school culture and a broken model of school discipline that focuses on criminalizing students at the expense of educating them."

I agree with this assessment. When children across the country are being handcuffed for minor issues, it demonstrates a significant problem that needs addressing. Hopefully it will be addressed soon. Last month, Care2's Kristina Chew wrote about the US Department of Education's plan to issue guidelines to school districts on the use of restraints and other tactics. Hopefully making this a national issue will help to ensure that children are treated with dignity and respect in public schools.

Sign the Petition: Schools Are Not Prisons - Speak Out Against Handcufffing as Punishment.

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