Thursday night ABC News did this report on the restraint and seclusion of students with autism and other special needs in American schools. They show the video of Andre McCollins being shocked at the Judge Rotenberg Center and examples of padded cells where students are forced to stay for extended periods of time.
A mother filed a police report saying that a bus driver and the principal of Chilhowee School in Missouri used duct tape to restrain her 5-year-old son, who has Asperger's syndrome. According to parent Linda Luhan, the same bus driver also threatened her son, who also has Aspergers, with the same treatment:
“He told us that he started yelling and was kicking the seat and Mr. Mike (the bus driver) stated that if he didn't shut his mouth, he was going to duct tape him," she recounted.
Today, Senator Tom Harkin held a hearing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on restraint and seclusion in America's schools:
Sen. Harkin began the discussion by acknowledging that too many U.S. students “have access to the school building, but lack access to the instruction.” He said there were proven alternatives to restraint and seclusion, including practices that promote positive behaviors for students with disabilities.
A report from the Office of the Senior Practitioner reveals that over 1800 people were chemically restrained in Australia last year, and that the use of restraint is becoming more common with autistic people:
The report noted that the number of people with autism subjected to restraint and seclusion had increased over the past three years despite a decrease in interventions on people without the disorder.
Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability executive officer Kevin Stone said the rising number of people with autism being restrained highlighted a failure in the system.
''Unfortunately this system has a one-size-fits-all approach that can exacerbate the behavioural issues that some people with autism have. If the system's only response is to restrain them, that's a major failing.''
Harbour View Elementary School in Nova Scotia says it is making changes after a father complained about their policy of fencing special needs students in an empty hockey rink during recess:
Christie said he feels his son is treated like a "goldfish in a bowl: he's just put on display for the other kids."
A spokesperson with the Halifax Regional School Board said the school isn't trying to segregate children with special needs, it's just trying to keep them safe. The school said there are concerns that the kids will run away if not in the fenced-in area.
Up to 10 children have special needs.
"All schools in the province believe firmly in inclusion and in creating opportunities for the students to be included in all activities within the schoolyard. The challenge at times is to ensure that student safety" is addressed, said Doug Hadley, from the Halifax Regional School Board.
But Christie said he is concerned about safety inside the rink.
"I walk inside of there and there's broken beer bottles, the leaves have never been raked up, there's dog poop bags in there," he said.
The school board said it has addressed that issue and it won't happen again. It says it will follow the wishes of any parent who does not want his or her child in the rink.
The school also congratulates itself on its policy of allowing the penned students to invite their friends to join them in the rink. Because nonverbal kindergartners like Christie's son are going to have no trouble making friends or making requests like that.
Some thoughts about this case and the treatment of disabled people in general:
1. People almost always claim that safety is their reason for restricting the freedom of disabled people. We see an example of this in the near-universal parent praise for the United States Centers for Disease Control adding "wandering" as a diagnostic code for people with autism and other conditions.
2. People rarely express concern for the safety of disabled people within restraints. Whether it is putting little Chris Baker into a canvas bag or using dangerous drugs, rather than supervision, to control people in New York's state-run facilities, it is common for the safety of disabled people who are being restrained to be ignored. Sometimes they die as a result. A school which was actually concerned about the safety of disabled children would make sure the broken bottles and poop bags were cleaned up before letting them into their pen
3. Separate is never equal. Facilities especially for minority populations tend to be like this: improvised, on the cheap, and poorly maintained.
4. Schools allow "choice" to get out of doing the right things for every kid. Parents who care and are aware of the situation can complain and not have their kids penned. Kids who have the ability can choose to ask friends to join them in the cage. So kids with lazy parents and poor social skills just deserve to be badly treated, right? It's their fault for not choosing better.