ACLU: Teachers abuse kids with disabilities
Unsettling evidence suggests that corporal punishment policies are targeting the most vulnerable children.
What to do if you fear your child is being abused by a teacher
Talk to the teacher and principal, and communicate your concerns.
If the principal doesn't address your concerns, contact your school district.
Parents can demand that their child's individual education plan (IEP) stipulate how he or she will be disciplined. Though in school districts with a prominent corporal punishment culture, parents may have their work cut out for them. (Landon's grandmother attests that before the paddling incident, she had signed a form saying corporal punishment shouldn't be used on her autistic grandson.)
If parents have trouble getting the school to comply with their requests, experts recommend that parents obtain a letter from their pediatrician and lobby their school board and school administrators to eliminate corporal punishment for all special education students.
By GreatSchools Staff
Landon K., an autistic 6-year-old, was a first-grader in Mississippi when an assistant principal administered an approved punishment: striking the child on his bottom with an inch-thick paddle.
The incident terrified the child, causing him to lose control. "He was screaming and hollering," Landon's grandmother Jacquelyn K. later told the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "It just devastated him."
Landon was so upset by the paddling he had to be sedated by ambulance workers.
Sound like one of those rare cases of abuse that grab headlines but are basically unprecedented? Unfortunately, the facts are a little more disturbing.
It's well documented that children with disabilities are at risk for bullying by other students. But it's not just kids who can be cruel. Teachers and administrators also disproportionately single out disabled students for violent punishment in the name of discipline.
Landon is just one of the tens of thousands of children with disabilities who are paddled at school in the United States every year, according to a new report by the ACLU. "Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students With Disabilities in U.S. Public Schools" (pdf) found that students with disabilities are more likely to be paddled than others and that some children are hit for exhibiting behaviors directly resulting from their disabilities.
Corporal punishment in our schools
Questionable reprimanding of students with disabilities is hardly limited to paddling. According to the report, they have been hit with rulers, grabbed with force enough to bruise, pinched, struck, and thrown to the floor — all by teachers and administrators. And the ACLU isn’t the only one raising the alarm about the issue: so is the federal government. An explosive report (pdf) issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in May 2009 documented hundreds of cases of abuse and even death resulting from restraint and seclusion used in public and private schools and treatment centers over the past 20 years. Almost all those cases involved children with disabilities.
Among the horrors the GAO report uncovered was the case of a 14-year-old boy with post-traumatic stress syndrome in Texas who died when a 230-pound teacher placed the child face-down on the floor and lay on top of him. The teacher was punishing the 129-pound student for not staying seated in class. While the teen's death was ruled a homicide, a grand jury did not indict the teacher, who is currently teaching in Virginia.
Only 15 states currently have policies on when and how restraint and seclusion can be used in school — that leaves 35 where it’s up to the teacher’s discretion (and potential misjudgment). But in the wake of the GAO report, in August Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked all state school chiefs to submit their policies on restraint and seclusion. As a result many states have formed task forces to create new policies.