Death at School: Parents Protest Dangerous Discipline for Autistic, Disabled Kids


Earlier this year a school in Mississippi was ordered by a federal judge to stop handcuffing students for hours for such minor offenses as dress code violations, and to stop forcing them to eat lunch while chained to railings and to call for help when they needed a bathroom break. Officials at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which brought the suit, told ABC News the practice was part of a profoundly dysfunctional school culture. In a deposition, the school's principal, Marie Harris, said she only handcuffed children to keep them safe – for instance, to prevent them from running into a busy street.

In Kentucky, Sandra Baker has taken her son out of the school that tried to subdue him by stuffing him in a duffle bag.

"It's really sad and it breaks my heart," Baker said. "He went back to school for a month or two, but I had to put him back on home school. He's had a rough time. He says he hates school, he doesn't like the teachers."

Kentucky schools spokeswoman Becky B. Holt told ABC News in an email that the media have drawn "mistaken conclusions" about the duffle bag incident. However, Holt said, the administration of the Mercer County Schools "is not at liberty to even attempt to educate the public on the facts" because of confidentiality rules.

One school that is trying to find alternative – and less dangerous -- ways to resolve outbursts from students is Centennial School of Lehigh University, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The director of the school, which serves children with special needs, is Michael George. He told ABC News restraint is being grossly overused in American schools, and is unnecessary in all but the most extreme cases.

"I had no idea how prevalent, how commonplace it was," George said. "And I've come to learn it's very commonplace."

He said he's heard plenty of horror stories from his own students, many of whom moved to Centennial from mainstream public schools after incidents involving misbehavior and violence. Jordan, an 11-year-old student, described for ABC News what would happen at her previous school when she started to act out.

"They'd grab you by your wrists, and they would intentionally drag you to a room and they'd lock you in there and it was dark, there's no windows, and you're just stuck in there for the whole day," she said.

George said he had not heard that Jordan had been locked in a dark room for the entire school day.

"It is horrible is what it is. It is absolutely horrible," George said. "Someday I think we are all going to look back and say … can you believe what we did here? Why did we do this? What were we trying to accomplish?"

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