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ACLU: Teachers abuse kids with disabilities

Unsettling evidence suggests that corporal punishment policies are targeting the most vulnerable children.

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.

Comments from readers

"My math teacher grades me horribly. I believe he does this because I have a disorder called ADD. I feel sometimes like it is myself, but today I got graded on a project I worked on really hard and I did better than what I was supposed to do. He gave me a 65. I cried when I got home and I just don't understand what I did or do that makes him not like or grade me right. I always has this problem with him and today really topped it off. I am in 8th grade and this man wants to destroy my future of being someone. I hate him so much . One time he embarrassed me in front of the whole school. I came up to play basketball with my friend and we were allowed to. He comes over and take the ball out of my hand saying "Get Out Of Here!" I was shocked and I was confused on what I did wrong. Soon I figured out that I didn't do a thing wrong. We also had our Final in Math today. He tells our whole class at the end of the test " You could have looked at the document that had the answers on it! ." I failed it. He has left me in pieces and I feel like a bad person. This is what my life has been like for 5 years. Even better, my dad died when I was only 9 years old. I am now 13. If I were him I would have sympathy for a child with a hard life. Instead he fails me and embarrasses me. Please tell me what you all think I should do "
"In March of 2009 I received a phone call at work that my daughter was out of control at school. She at that time was in the first grade. I could not leave work, so my mother and son went to pick her up. That evening I was going to punish her for her behavior. My mom asked me to wait until the next day because I was too upset and my daughter was exhausted. Now, I will tell you a little about my daughter. My husband and I adopted her and her older sister in 2006. We were her 6th home by the time she was almost 4 years old. She was in foster care due to severe neglect. The conditions in which she and her family were found in were horrible. The house was without any heat (it was Feb), dead mice in the floor, children reported being bound to their beds, windows were boarded up where no light could come in, they were only allowed to go out at night. The elementary school in which this incident occurred was fully aware of all of this. On this particular morning, my daugh! ter didn't want to color her sheet and her teacher began to fuss at her to the point of her feeling threatned. Her teacher and the teachers aid then began to chase her around the classroom. When they caught her, they took her into the special education classroom to another teacher in which my daughter was unfamiliar with. The teacher then placed our daughter in a "black-out room" used for autistic children. When our daughter tried to escape this room the teacher then sat on her in the floor and held her arms over her head. This incident was never reported to anyone. On the following Monday, my husband and myself went to meet with the teacher/principal. The teacher that restrained/sucluded our daughter said to me "If you have something you need to ask me, you need to go ahead and ask" I replied "Is this the room where you hold children down on the floor?" She replied "When they are kicking and screaming it is." After meeting with the school attorney and superintende! nt, the teacher says "I didn't know what you meant when you as! ked me that question." "The school attorney says "restraint never happened." I have no idea how to fight this. My daughter has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder now and we have to drive her one hour away out of district. If anyone has any input on how we can fight this, please contact me. I have gone to my State Representatives and we have hired an attorney to no avail. "
"Hello, is anybody know what are legal steps to protect child from bullying teachers? "
"Last year my child was bullied by his First grade teacher at a private religous school. His only diagnosis was a langauge delay/disorder; thus, he was not at all expressive about his needs or feelings. This type of situarion is a feeding frenzy for many kinds of teachers. His taecher already had a chip on her sholder about her own grown son, who was supposedly diagnosed on the Autistic Spectrum later in life, which many feel was an exuse for a much greater and different type of personal problems. Thus, this teacher already had a chip on her shoulder, and combined with a very incompetant and weak principal that would never confront her teachers. When this is the situation, eventually, everyone will feel politically pushed to align with the bullying teacher because the principal stands steadfast behind her. And in my sons situation, his behavior deteriorated throughout the year, starting to display signs of increasing stress. I have a plethora of evidence of her bullying, from berating comments on his homework in regard to his intrinsic abilities, to disgusting behavior charts proving to him that he did NOTHING right. I did formally call her a bullying teacher. Could I take additional action against her and the school? Maybe. But for now, it's most important to me that my son heal in a nourishing classroom and school. We are now attending a public charter school, and my son is excited to go to school in the morning! But, I would like to say that I pray for her son that he may heal from her actions. "
"Why cite teachers? Why not go to the source of the problem: the school districts and and the top school leadership that insidiously allow large numbers of children with special needs to be placed into general education classes (no specially trained staff present to meet the needs of the disabled students and no IEP's). The teacher is blindsided and penalized possibly fired for not controlling these undocumented special needs kids. ACLU needs to present the facts accurately. "
"that teacher should be in prison for murder. just where you or i would be if we were to have done this.if it had been anyone but a teacher they would be in prison."
"Unfortunately, one of our children has become apart of this statistic. The teacher was arrested, the state dropped the case after the lead investigator was arrested shortly after. They knew he was under investigation but continued business as usual and all his cases were dropped. This teacher got her job back teaching 3-4 year-old ESE children! Now my children -- all three are on the spectrum -- are not in school. We are in the middle of a civil suit and a civil rights complaint. I wish there was a virtual schools for auties. Let these kids stay at home, learn at their own pace. The public school system has become a forced institutionalized daycare and some of the teaching staff are more mentally challenged than the students."
"they use family members, friends come and visit your child at school during pull out time for speech and OT sessions"
"i have a child with autism. he/she comes home with numerous bodily marks.. what can we do?.... very disturbing!"
"Why should a parent have to withdraw a child from school,if is the administrator faults what happens in their schools. If a parent bruise his child or hit him he can be in jail, so why not put those jerks in jail that don't know how to work with special kids and think that hitting is ok. We have law for special kids but look good just in the papers. The government should make some specific laws for those who abuse disable kids that can defend their self or tell what is going on in their schools. "
"I am pulling my son out of this school district. This school district in my opinion should never be allowed to have special needs students our son is repeating 4th grade for the third time thanks to their inattentive and indifferent attitudes. He supposedly had a title one reading teacher...We never saw a progress report or spoke to this person, When we received a report card it was grade only no checks or minuses on what progress had been made or what needed to be improved. During his first round of 4th grade he was isolated for four months because they could not handle him during that same year we had five case conferences nothing changed, and by the way I contacted the ACLU over these issues and have yet to hear from them. Parents you have to protect and defend your child count on no one, know your rights, and stand your ground. Good luck "
"It is terribly sad that the teachers and administrators in our schools continue to abuse students in the classrooms. In addition to physical abuse, verbal abuse is rampant. Recent reports of bullying have only addressed bullying between students and not the bullying by teachers. In 2006, I gave my son's teacher (who has Tourettes) an evaluation from a renowned organization devoted to assessing, evaluating, and serving the needs of special children. He was tested and evaluated and specific directions were given to the school. Despite spelling out exactly what his needs were, the teacher ignored it completely. Instead, he was ridiculed and put out of the classroom (he was givin a desk in the hall) for having 'outbursts' in class. The teacher has the support of the spineless principle and equally spineless and ignorant superintendent. The abusive dean told him at one time to 'stop being so pathetic.' How naive to assume that teacher equals education. How naïve of us to see one great teacher then paint all teachers with the same brush, ignoring obvious improprieties. How naïve of us to assume that because teachers work in an area of such importance, the education of our children, that they are automatically exempt from accountability. Instead of looking rationally at the situation, we stick our heads in the sand and put all teachers on a pedestal. In reality, some teachers are in the business for the wrong reasons, some teachers are inept, and some teachers are even abusers. It's time for this to end. "
"As far as all the cases of Autism, ADD etc, isn’t anyone concerned why so many kids are now allegedly affected with such problems. Could it have something to do with massive amounts of video, additives in food or the PCB’s in plastic food containers? I knew a kid that took drugs for Hyperactivity/ADD. He was always stuffing his skinny self with chocolate candy, cake, and drinking caffeinated sugary beverages! His mom would drop him at the grandmothers with extra clothes, pajamas, a bag of various candies, snack foods, pop and an S-load of video games. The only “food� he’d eat was hot dogs, ham and French fries. I read up and discovered long term or large doses over short term that drug causes cancer! I had a talk with the mom and she corrected the bad eating, video and TV excess. The skinny shrimp of a kid shot up in height and put on normal weight, his behavior improved and he never needed drugs again."
"Most teachers in the public school system got their jobs through political connections. They’ve gotten through college and obtained a degree but they’re bad teachers. I realize they should not be expected to also be lion tamers and horse wranglers but most of them do not teach anything either. They give assignments, tests and fill out forms but learning is for the student to figure on their own. It’s a shame that so many mean and incompetent people get to spend thirty or more years coasting and collecting a paycheck while simultaneously emotionally scarring so many children for a lifetime. Most people holding seats at the local educational boards are just as bad. Even if a kid is a handful, it’s the teacher’s job to take charge and handle the situation appropriately. If a teacher is overloaded with students then she should file a complaint with the proper authorities. Just because a kid hasn’t had an official medical diagnosis is no excuse to leave him in a class where the teacher can’t cope with his behavior. If a kid is that disruptive then it’s obvious that it’s time to get some help or a different teacher. Since the Columbine incident, I thought that across the country schools had adopted a zero tolerance policy regarding bullying but apparently I was mistaken. The schools still rely on public humiliation, peer pressure and exile to exert control over children of all ages. Some things will never change. The “Witch Trials� live on. "
"If anyone ever touched my child in any manner than w/respect, I'm afraid I would beat them within an inch of their life. Only cowards pick on helpless children (and animals). My son is on spectrum for Autism, and I protect him with everything in me. My husband would be in jail if anyone messed with him. He is a God given gift and an angel. This world needs to realize our future is w/our kids and they need to be respected and protected."
"This is a disturbing article. The unfortunate thing is I have seen this behavior in action in my own school district. I have a child with ASD and I know for a fact that he has never received any type of corpal punishment only because I have made myself known to the school personell, Administration, and school board in my community. Parents must take action. They HAVE to get involved in their schools and let their schools know that they are paying attention to what is going on. They must make regular appointments for teacher conferences and request updates on a regular basis and become familiar with what real data is and how it should be taken. Hold your school system accountable for the services they are providing. Demand better training. Parents need to unite with each other and present a unified front to their school systems and let them know that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated."
"I have a cousin that is 14 and very austistic.He has inspired me to learn alot about the subject.He is basically my world.Ive been in 4 fights just because of people making fun of him or someone else with a dissability.No,I am not bragging.Im just saying what I believe in.Because I beleive strongly in Excepting people either way it goes (:"
"this must be an useful article for parents facing such problems at schools"
"I cannot believe the ignorance of some people. It is as if our children asked for these diabilities. Our 8 year old son has been choked, slapped in the face, grabbed about the arms, and pushed to the floor on numerous occassions. He was diagnosed with an ASD when he was 4, we had the meeting with our local school district for early education and they denied us. He also has seizures, migraine headaches, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus (in which he has a shunt), severe visual impairment, etc. We cannot afford to send him to a private school, nor do we accept state or county assistance, but our school does. In order for our children to learn, the adults must do so first. If our states want our children 'main streamed,' they need to step up and train the educators of our children properly. In the same token, is it not common sense to practice what you preach. Our children learn to act the way in which they are shown. A teacher, aide, administrator, etc., may tell a child! not to do or to do something, yet they themselves show an action that is quite to the contrary. Why? I thought these teachers went to school to help children, not treat those with disabilities any different then you would a 'normal' child. Even 'normal' children have ADHD on Fridays. Why are our children so 'micro-managed?' On top of them constantly. If our son does not pick up his pencil, he is made to. What is wrong with these people? Would you take that as an adult? Then what makes anyone think a child would. Until we, the parents of children with disabilities, educate staff and other parents, our children will always be singled out. Children with disabilities are WONDERFUL. They teach us, we do not teach the, how to be more patient, loving and forgiving of the people who hurt us the most. What a great way to be, disabled! I applaud all you parents who fight for your children and you keep going. Those who are unwilling to learn, truly are disabled. Good ! luck to all of you, and keep fighting for what you know is rig! ht. "
"I did not realized that state sanctioned assault against children was still permitted and used in so many states. Shocking."
"It is FACT that teachers in this country and other parts of the world IDIOTS. If somebody did something to my child I would hunt that person and beat them until blood comes out of their mouth. Who normal uses paddle today, it is 21 century not 1st. Teachers wants kids to sit still for 24/7. Kids spend 8 hours in school that is not NORMAL. Who is going to sit still for 8 hours? Also if teacher does not know how to make stuff interesting in school and kids to listen to them that is their failure. I went to college in this country and overseas. Here is required to attend classes, while overseas is not. Over there professor knows when is bad professor if he does not have any student to come and listen his lectures while here none professor knows are they bad or good. The hardest classes for accounting I took in this country, I was sleeping on them. They were useless for me. I was correcting professor so many times until I got sick of it. People do not know to teach in elementary! schools, colleges. Bad professor’s bad teachers, bad educational system. Just bad. And after you are wandering why American kids have reputation of stupid ones. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!! And nobody does anything to change it."
"I have a 3yr old son who was just recently diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. As soon as we received the news, I started reading all kinds of books I could find on the subject. I didn't know too much except of what I had seen in the movie 'Rainman' years ago. I wanted to empower myself with education. The knowledge I've gained from researching has helped me work to provide a quality life for him because that is what he deserves as do ALL children. If what I've read in this report isn't stopped, I fear for his academic future. It makes me want to run the teacher/principal over in the school parking lot with my SUV, j/k, I would never do that but whats to say a parent wouldn't when it comes to defending their child. The teachers in these cases above were not educated on dealing with special needs children. (I'm trying to say something productive about the ones in this report instead of ...ooh I hope that 230-lb teacher has a heart attack or stroke! oopss..sorry.) And i! n response to that dumb person who blamed the parent, my wish is that you are someday put in our shoes. Oh, geee, we should know the policy ...well, we're just sending our kids to school to LEARN, not be paddled! The parents are the ones who know &(live with) their LD children & should discipline them appropriately!"
"It is horrifying reading articles such as this; even moreso when someone says there should be MORE corporal punishment and they blame the PARENT! Huh?!? If the person who left the previous comment relating to that, or the school administration/staff had any clue as to what corporal punishment does to chilren, and ESPECIALLY those with a LD like Autism, they would be so ashamed of what they have done. It is sickening to hear that student with Autism was paddled. These children have a hard time learning and need more repetitions of what they are learning. For you to paddle them for something is not doing anything except for making them more aggressive, angry, and closed-down to adults and authority figures. If you want to raise a generation of children who shy away from the public, don't contribute, and are greatly hurt in the long-term, then you are going down the right road. If you want a generation which will be of benefit to their communities, seek alternative means of dea! ling with situations that typically lead to punishment: - Reward good behaviors - Place them in alternate environments when needed - Include aids to help in situations where applicable - Have the parents be more involved - Seek therapy with someone who is specializing in LD children but above all... - Do not hit, humiliate, or discourage the child as this will do far more harm to them then what they might have done to someone else! If a child hits someone, separate the child, explain the situation and have them cool down. The child who was hit will be over it after a few hours, days, weeks. However, if the faculty paddles a child, that lasts forever. Whose the monster here?"
"My heart aches from the torture inflicted on my son who is now 17. I never knew what to do. I am broken and bitter from the years my son was in public school in Lexington Ky. His was an arm being pulled daily and he complained about his shoulder hurting frequently in 2nd grade. The more I complained the more they seemed to tourture him. I always believed that the teachers and administraters were the bullies and the other students just followed there lead."
"Child buttock-battering vs. DISCIPLINE: Child buttock-battering for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit. Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit. I think the reason why television shows like 'Supernanny' and 'Dr. Phil' are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do. There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping isn't a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals: Plain Talk About Spanking by Jordan Riak, The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children by Tom Johnson, NO VITAL ORGANS THERE, So They Say by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D. Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads-visit Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn't a good idea: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center For Effective Discipline, PsycHealth Ltd Behavioral Health Professionals, Churches' Network For Non-Violence, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps, Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child."
"Corporal punishment isn't the only thing that these teachers seem to single out the Learning Disabled ADHD/ADD children with... they aren't trained properly and do not know enough about these unfortunate children to be leaving your child in the classroom with on a daily basis. They tend to insult and embarrass them into tears by publicly confronting them and removing them from the classroom because they aren't fitting in. It's disgusting and abusive - my son had been in a school where the teacher would sit with a list and check off his bad behavior on a daily basis and made him cry each day, leaving him feeling rejected by the entire classroom. This caused the entire class to treat him disrespectfully and I had to physically pull my son out of that school. These teachers do not know what they are dealing with and the scars are deep wounds, much deeper then a physical scar. My son once said I'd rather be beaten than insulted because a bruise heals but when all your friends! turn on you because they think that you are stupid it's something that hurts much worse then the deepest cut. These teachers better learn not to cross that line and if they haven't had the proper training on how to handle a child with learning disabilities then they had better seek some advice before inducing long term emotional scars upon these innocent children. Not all children learn at the same pace and many cannot keep up with their class - they should never be punished for such a disability."
"Write both your state and federal lawmakers. In Georgia, we are the 8th highest paddling state in the nation, that's some dubious distinction. For all you pro-hitters out there, the time is coming where this will stop in schools for good. It is no longer acceptable and innapropriate on many levels. You can't hit your dog, you can't hit your spouse, you can't hit your neighbor but in 20 states children can be hit by a school person. 30 states educate children just fine without hitting, and they typically are the better performing states to boot. Write your state and federal lawmakers and urge an immediate moratorium and legislation to stop these practices for good."
"Its amazing how educational professionals do not have a background on the variety of special needs and the attributes of each LD which would dictate on a case by case basis how behavior should be handled. Im floored about the teacher laying on top of his student. Idiotic!"
"If a teacher is truly targeting your child and the school isn't doing their job, then pull your kid out and school them at home where you can protect them- it's YOUR job as their parent! If your kid is a 'hellion' and is unmanageable at home for you, why do you think a teacher can do any better? I feel sorry for some of these teachers- and for my kids who don't get as much attention because teachers spend all their time with the kids that make the most trouble- disabled or not, other kids get the shaft. I come from a family of teachers. Some kids are truly disabled, but many are just completely undisciplined and make teaching a nightmare!"
"I think there is a place for paddling when children are unruly or out of control. Personally, I would not want my children hit by a school principal, but there is nothing wrong with corporal punishment. In fact we need more of it. In this particular case, the parent should have been aware that they had an autistic child and they also should have been aware of the school's policy about paddling. I BLAME THE PARENT!!"
"It would seem so easy for the mom who complains about children with disabilities supposedly attacking her perfect boy who can afford to go to a charter school. Too bad you don't know the heartache to have your child be diagnosed with a disability, but quite frankly you don't care. You are the type of parent who criticizes parents like us as being overprotective. You see our kids as defective and expect that nothing else matters so they can be treating worse than animals. Here is a senario for you Ms.Perfect, your child gets hit by a car and now needs your assistance and as you drop him off at school everyday you leave knowing the incidence of abuse especially since in the past you have been a perpetrator to children with disabilities. Our children did not chose to have a disability just like your child has not chosen to be struck by a car or be diagnosed with some type of cancer. Think about that next time you cast the first stone. Ever heard of something by the name of Karm! a, kit makes a full circle, so good luck when it catches up with you."
"My child will not set foot in a Government school. Parents, educate yourself about homeschooling. It is not just for religious nuts, or whatever you may think. Your child is worth your time and attention and if you don't feel that way then you are no better than the public school system. There are many excuses, but there are no good excuses to not take care of the most important thing in your life."
"I wouldn't trust the ACLU to to tell me the correct time of day. I'm now a 76 yo remembering my 7th grade math teacher who was a very large man with big bushy eye brows and a voice to match. His punishment method was ridicule. He kept two examples prominently displayed in the classroom--one was a bag full of Zacks (sp) to be played in the front of the classroom taught by a willing girl to the trouble maker (most often a boy with the whole class looking on. If this failed the the second object, was used out in the hall. It was a hard rubber paddle with holes drilled to cut down air resistance when used. The first lesson in physics we were taught. "
"School administrators and teachers are the most protected people you will ever meet. They are nearly untouchable and students are among the highest risk group. It's not a fair match and the people that are supposed to be there to help are very often the ones targeting, bullying and pushing these kids away, disabled, popular, leaders...for whatever reason they want they hurt these kids and good luck getting someone to listen. Parents need to for support groups, student/parent advocate groups, write letters, go to board meetings and bring the kids so they can stand up for themselves. Our district is taking the next step and targeting parents. A parent recently raised her voice during a meeting, they filed a restraining order and two weeks later they contacted the police and added disorderly conduct. This is a parent who volunteered in the district for 14 years, PTO, right through the high school years. There is not a history of problems this is amazing! New administration is o! ut of control! "
"I'm not a parent of a LD child but I witnessed this is school growing up myself. Some teachers to the point of mentioning wether or not the child took his 'meds today'. Personal isn't it?"
"my 8 year old son has adhd and a ld and he was attack for a bully on second grade,the bully got caught and suspended but wath was most upsetting for me was that the teacher seem to enjoy how other kids reject my son i kind of notice but was not sure so i did nothing plus i did not want to look like i want to overprotect my son, thankfully my son doesn't notice he is too busy dreaming,until one day my friend told me one kid was kicking him while he was tiying his shoes and she was mad and told that that was NOT right it was then that i break down and went to talk to his mom,IT'S NOT FAIR. "