Why Was a 6-Year-Old Handcuffed at School?

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Lakaisha and Patrick Reid. Photo courtesy Lakaisha Reid

When a Georgia mother arrived at her 6-year-old son’s school last week in response to a call that he was misbehaving, she was greeted by a shocking surprise: Her first grader was in handcuffs.

Lakaisha Reid’s 6-year-old son Patrick is a special needs student at Pine Ridge Elementary in Stone Mountain, Ga. On the morning of December 5, Reid got a call from the school asking her to pick up her son and bring him home early. “They said he wasn’t having a good day,” Reid tells Yahoo Parenting. “My husband and I walked into the school and heard my son yelling and screaming.” The couple found him in a room on his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back. The school resource officer was standing behind Patrick, holding him in place.

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“The first thing I said was ‘Get those handcuffs off my kid,’ because that’s something no mother wants to see on a 6-year-old,” the mom of four says. “He wasn’t robbing anyone, he wasn’t harming anyone. Kids should know if you do something wrong you will pay a consequence, but handcuffs at 6? That’s not right.”

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The DeKalb County School District sent the following statement to Yahoo Parenting: “A six year old student at Pine Ridge Elementary School was acting in a disruptive manner and being self-destructive during school today. He ran out of school onto a busy, public street and was pursued by three school staff members. The student was secured and returned to the school and placed in a room with a special education teacher, the school counselor and the School Resource Officer (SRO) to protect him from doing harm to himself. After several unsuccessful attempts, his parents were contacted and asked to come immediately to the school.  For approximately one hour, the student was scratching, kicking and hitting school personnel and continued to exhibit violent behavior, running into walls, banging his head on tables and placing his health at risk.  At this point, the SRO placed handcuffs on the student to protect him from harming himself.  When the parents arrived, they were told the student was handcuffed for his personal safety.” 

However, Reid insists that her son’s bruises are the result of using handcuffs. “If he was running into walls and hurting himself, he would have scratches and other bruises,” she says. “Plus, how did he even get to the front door to get out of the school? Who is doing their job there?”

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Reid says she has been called to the school on other occasions for her son’s behavioral problems. The boy is enrolled in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) which aims to address a student’s learning or behavioral issues. The program also calls for a specific response when students act up. “They are trained to calm him down, to soothe him, to restrain him with their hands if necessary,” she says. “Handcuffs shouldn’t be in the picture. That causes more problems. I want him to be safe – that’s what an IEP is for.”

Forcefully restraining students is a surprisingly common practice. A recent study conducted by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica found that the practice of restraining or secluding students (confining them against their will) was used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year. A letter issued to schools that same year by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged educators to avoid these tactics. “Every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint and seclusion. … Any behavioral intervention must be consistent with the child’s rights to be treated with dignity and to be free from abuse,” Duncan wrote. “Restraint or seclusion should never be used except in situations where a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others, and restraint and seclusion should be avoided to the greatest extent possible without endangering the safety of students and staff. … As many reports have documented, the use of restraint and seclusion can have very serious consequences, including, most tragically, death.  Furthermore, there continues to be no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective in reducing the occurrence of the problem behaviors that frequently precipitate the use of such techniques.”

Reid says Patrick won’t return to school before she meets with his teachers on Thursday. “He’s not ready to go back,” she says. In the meantime, Reid says she hopes that the school resource officers will receive special training for how to handle students with special needs.

The school echoed her sentiment in its statement. “Additional training for School Resource Officers and other school staff for dealing with similar circumstances will be provided.”

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