Imagine your child has a disability that makes it difficult for them to control their temper. An incident at school causes a teacher to call for the assistance of a campus safety officer. This officer, who in some cases has as little as 4½ weeks of training and is unfamiliar with your child’s situation, nevertheless deems them a safety risk and places them in handcuffs.What’s more, this is done without adherence to state law, which allows for the use of handcuffs on students only if the student is openly displaying a deadly weapon or when an officer trained in defense tactics utilizing handcuff procedures has made a referral to law enforcement. This may sound excessive, but it’s currently the policy employed by Denver Public Schools. Since April 2017, it’s happened nearly 70 times.
To some, this may sound reasonable. After all, educators have a responsibility to act in the best interests of all students. However, developmentally disabled children and children as young as three years old are bearing the brunt of this brutal policy.
A recent story published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news outlet covering education in America, featured Jake DiProfio, a former student at Denver’s Bill Roberts K-8 School. His parents say the 11-year-old has trouble dealing with frustration and has developed at a slower rate than his peers. He was first handcuffed at school at age six. In the past year, he was handcuffed an additional four times before his parents made the decision to pull him out of school in April. After one of these incidents, as Jake’s father was driving him home, Jake began to shake uncontrollably. Believing his son may have been experiencing a seizure, his father drove him to a nearby hospital. Jake was suffering from psychological symptoms related to being restrained. Now, Jake says he has nightmares about the incident. “I couldn’t sleep because whenever I shut my eyes, I saw the cuffs – me, in a chair with cuffs on.”
Denver Public Schools is currently rethinking its policy. A proposed resolution would do away with the use of handcuffs on elementary school children in third grade and below and would put tighter restrictions on the use of handcuffs for children in fourth and fifth grade.
While this is a small step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough. There are thousands of children out there just like Jake who deserve better.Jake’s story is but one staggering example of the shortsightedness involved when a school hands over this sort of power to under trained individuals with clearly insufficient oversight. In perhaps the worst example, Chalkbeat also tells the story of an autistic three-year-old who had to be handcuffed around the biceps because its wrists were too small. What did this accomplish? Did it accomplish anything other than an extreme act of restraint? That there was no better alternative to managing what amounted to an out of control toddler is absurd. The bottom line is that handcuffing children harms them in ways we don’t understand, and there are better, more-humane ways to deal with these problems.
As an attorney in Richards Carrington’s Education Law practice, Lindsay Richardson fights for student rights across Colorado and beyond. If you have a story to share, you can contact Lindsay here.