Philadelphia police are investigating the death of a 17-year-old boy who died after an apparent altercation with staff at his school, a residential program for children with special needs.
The boy, who police have not identified, had “mental health and medical issues and might have been put in a headlock by a staff member who was attempting to subdue him,” the Associated Press reports.
Police were called to Wordsworth Academy, a private school, at about 11 p.m. Thursday night to interview staff and investigate the situation, and the student was declared dead at the scene, WPVI reports.
“The altercation reportedly centered around the teen having an electronic device he was not supposed to have, such as an iPad or iPod,” the ABC affiliate reports. “At least three staff members responded.”
According to its website: “Wordsworth partners with the Philadelphia School District, over 50 local school districts from five counties, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Community Behavioral Health, and the Philadelphia Department of Human Services to serve the needs of the community.”
The use of restraint and seclusion in schools has been a subject of debate in many areas in recent years. The practices are largely used to subdue and discipline students with disabilities, and many have questioned whether they are effective and humane. In response, some states have tightened restrictions on when schools can use restraint and seclusion.
With limited details available about the Philadelphia incident, it remains unclear whether or not the school’s use of restraint on the student was allowed under state law.
The Disability Rights Center of Pennsylvania summarizes Pennsylvania’s legal requirements for use of restraints on its website:
Restraints are a measure of last resort. They can only be used after other less restrictive measures, including de-escalation techniques (strategies to calm the student or situation) have been used. An adult can restrain a student only when the student is acting in a way that is a clear and present danger to himself, other students or employees, and only when less restrictive measures and techniques have proven to be less effective."
Related reading on restraint and seclusion:
- State Legislatures Take Aim at Restraint, Seclusion in Schools
- State, District Data Differ on Seclusion and Restraint
- Don’t Use Martial Arts to Restrain Students, Kentucky Ed. Chief Tells Schools
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.