A true story
Remember that feeling you had the first day you left your helpless, months-old baby at daycare? That anguished, groveling, fear? How you needed to believe, so desperately, in the goodness of people, in their ability to be gentle, patient, and honest? Imagine feeling that every day for 13 years, and then imagine someone, or maybe 2 or 3 (or up to 9!) adults restraining your innocent, disabled, utterly helpless boy for 7, 10, 20 minutes and then sending him home without a word, day after day. Imagine that.
Imagine you are a child in the room – your classroom. What is it you see? What do you hear? You hear the aide tell your classmate to stop flapping his hands. “Quiet hands!” “Calm body!” You watch as your friend, deprived of his means of self-comfort, begins to dysregulate. His distress is clear, it grows. You watch – you cannot look away – as it begins again: as he stands there, two staff members take hold of your friend, one on each side. They keep their legs in front of his, and as he cries out, they force him to bend forward at the waist, pushing his head toward his knees.
When you get home that afternoon, your mother asks you about your day, even though she knows you cannot respond. But you do respond. Your sleeplessness, your sudden and uncharacteristic anger, the disappearance of your brilliant smile, the unexpected return of your seizures, all speak dimly to those who love you. What is wrong, my child?
Does this sound lucky? Well, it is. It is luck and nothing more happened that the child did not suffer a serious injury or die at school. That is not an exaggeration. Children die every year as a result of physical restraints performed on them at school by certified and trained personnel. They do, because that is the nature of restraint, even when it is performed properly.
People think that the law protects children. They would not believe what is actually legal to do to a child at school. In the state of New York, prone restraint is legal. Supine restraint is legal. There is no legally set time limit for physical restraint. There is no legally mandated timeline for reporting to parents. The law DOES NOT protect our children, so until it does, we must rely on teachers and administrators to act competently and ethically. We must rely on their honesty and transparency.
*Please note the “protective hold” described here is listed in the literature of a leading “crisis de-escalation” institute as one that is approved for use in schools. The school says there is no record of what holds were actually used on this child, although some holds were significant enough to require examination by a nurse, and during or after at least one hold, the child “fell asleep.” Note that this training institute considers any change of consciousness associated with a hold a medical emergency. Neither the nurse nor any other staff reported these examinations to the parent until the end of the 2-month period during which holds were used.