School District May Handcuff Unruly Students

April 22, 2007 — -- They're used on criminals, inmates and terrorists.

Soon, the pinch of plastic handcuffs could be felt by unruly students, too.

On April 19, the Milwaukee school board voted to begin training security officers in the use of flexible handcuffs.

"Using the flex cuffs is a much better way of restraining a youngster who's out of control than having a number of adults pushing the child to the ground and restraining them," said Milwaukee public schools superintendent William Andrekopoulos.

The vote comes in the wake of a series of violent incidents at Milwaukee high schools. Last October, an attack by a 15-year-old student reportedly left a principal with a concussion and a fractured back. In November, a 17-year-old student allegedly sexually assaulted a teacher in front of a class.

But the handcuffs would not just be used in high schools. The policy would apply even to students as young as kindergarten age.

Effective Violence Prevention or Knee-Jerk Reaction?

Critics say that even if the restraints work, they send the wrong message.

"That's teaching them to adjust to being treated as criminals and we don't want that," said Jerry Ann Hamilton, the NAACP's Milwaukee president.

Opponents also believe the handcuffs could also injure young children, hurting the people the schools are meant to protect. Andrekopoulos countered that training for school safety personnel would keep that from happening.

"This isn't a punishment thing. This is a last resort for children who have serious emotional issues," he said. "School safety personnel would only implement this protocol after extensive training."

But Mary Harrell, a retired corrections officer, doesn't think a training session can adequately teach anyone to handcuff a person safely.

"Temporary training is not good enough," she said. "It's not that you can just walk up and cuff people and they're going to comply."

Harrell believes the superintendent should reevaluate the level of violence in schools and find a better solution than plastic cuffs.

"This is a knee-jerk reaction," she said. "They're fearful, and as opposed to coming up with something intermediate … they come up with rash decisions that effect our children and our community."

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