In a new article at The Atlantic, Mareesa Nicosia examines incidents in public schools where restraint and other punishments have led to serious harm and even death in American public schools. Advocates in Mississippi are calling for it to become the next state to adopt laws and guidelines for a minimum standard in using restraint as a disciplinary tactic.
State by state, an effort to regulate these tactics and better protect students from potential abuse in their classrooms has slowly gained traction in the last six years, following a 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The collected testimony from schools around the country included the case of a 14-year-old boy in Texas who died after being pinned down by a teacher; another involved a volunteer teacher’s aide in Florida who gagged and duct-taped 6- and 7-year-old students who were misbehaving.
Mississippi is one of the five states that remain without a statewide policy to protect students from cruel and unusual methods of restraint and seclusion by unqualified enforcers. Reports have been made and lawsuits filed after disruptive children, many of whom have had disabilities, have been locked in file cabinets, strangled, forcibly bound, harnessed or handcuffed by teachers with no training in using these devices safely. While statistic are scarce, the Office of Civil Rights reports that from 2009-1010, 715 incidents of restraint and seclusion were reported by schools across the state. In these reports, 72% of the children impacted were black, 28% were white.
Mississippi lawmakers are concerned after Southern Poverty Law Center sued Jackson County Public Schools for chaining disruptive students to objects.
The SPLC alleged that students were “handcuffed and shackled to poles” for up to six hours for non-criminal offenses such as violating the dress code or talking back to a teacher, Reuters reported.
The policy being proposed in Mississippi will define restraint and seclusion, and clarify when, how and for how long these techniques may be used. It also focuses on training teachers in alternative behavioral intervention strategies, prevention, conflict management and safety procedures.
After Mississippi, the other states who have no set of standards, laws, or guidelines for reporting are New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota and Idaho.