I wrote a piece for CNN on the handcuffing of a third grader in Kentucky.
The video is horrible. I watched it repeatedly in writing the piece, and I remain very upset by it, and I’m glad it went viral across the news media everywhere.
The video, though, is not the problem. The problem is that this kind of thing happens to children all across America, every day. The children are mostly disabled. The children are mostly of color.
The absolute worst thing about this video is that without it, almost no one would care. The use of violent restraint and seclusion to enforce compliance on children with disabilities, especially children of color with disabilities, is a well-documented problem. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office reported on widespread abuses, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for action. And yet, if anything, the problem is only getting worse.
Here are some numbers, based on the most recent data (from 2011-12). According to Claudia Center, senior staff attorney of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, there are more than 52,000 students with disabilities restrained every year, 4,000 of them in “mechanical restraints’ (handcuffs and shackles). That’s over 20 times the rate that children without disabilities are restrained. Within that population, children of color are far more likely to be restrained than white students with special needs.
It’s probably happening in your city, if not specifically your school district.
You should ask your principal, superintendent, school board – what are your policies on the use of mechanical restraints in elementary and middle school?