Special Education

Handcuffing of Students Reignites Debate on Use of Restraint

By Christina A. Samuels — August 17, 2015 4 min read
An 8-year-old boy struggles after being handcuffed by a school resource officer at a school in Covington, Ky. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the officer and the local sheriff's department that employs him.

Restraint and seclusion in schools, particularly when used with students with disabilities, has been a simmering national issue for years.

But when video of a Kentucky school resource officer handcuffing an 8-year-old boy was released earlier this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, debate over the practice of restraining students erupted anew. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the school resource officer, Kevin Sumner, and his employer, the Kenton County, Ky., sheriff’s department.

The seven-minute video, which shows a whimpering and crying boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder cuffed at the biceps behind his back while Sumner stands nearby, is also stirring debate about disability, race (one of the children in the lawsuit is Hispanic, and one is African-American), and the role of school resource officers. And experts in school security say that the incident brings up another vexing issue: School resource officers are too often pulled into disciplinary issues that are better left to school staff.

“It’s hard for me to watch that video,” said Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, who was a school resource officer for 12 years. “It doesn’t look good.”

But Canady said that it’s not clear what event or behavior led up to the boy’s cuffing. He also noted that Sumner did not go through the national association’s training program, which, Canady said, makes it clear that “school discipline is not the role of the SRO.”

Kenneth S. Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services and a frequent commenter on school security topics, had a similar view.

“What we’re seeing is that many SROs have become the de facto extra administrators in the classroom. It creates an environment for criminalizing a school disciplinary matter,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Education has made the same point. In its first-ever guidance on school discipline, released last year, it said that disciplinary actions more often fall on students with disabilities and on students who are members of racial minorities. Administrators should avoid relying on school resource officers to deal with discipline issues, the guidance notes.

District Investigation

The lawsuit from the ACLU and two law firms claims that the officer violated the civil rights of the boy and another child, as well as violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition to ADHD, the 3rd grade boy shown in the video has post-traumatic stress disorder. A 9-year-old 4th grader was cuffed in two incidents that were not recorded. She has ADHD, the lawsuit says.

Both children are enrolled in the 4,000-student Covington, Ky., district. Neither the school district nor the sheriff’s department answered questions about whether Sumner will serve as a school resource officer for the 2015-16 school year.

The school district’s own investigation, however, justifies Sumner’s actions. The district released a two-page investigative report that was written in March, a few months after the cuffing incidents. The investigator said that the school staff did not ask Sumner to cuff the children, but that they had not been able to calm the students.

“In each instance, the children assaulted Deputy Sumner immediately prior to his decision to handcuff them. S.R. [the 3rd grade boy] without provocation or warning swung at Deputy Sumner; L.G. [the 4th grade girl] hit, spit, scratched him, and expelled and smeared mucus on him. In each instance, Deputy Sumner perceived that the students posed a safety threat to themselves, others, and him. Once the children calmed and were no longer a safety risk the restraints were removed. The handcuffs were not used as a form of punishment by Deputy Sumner; instead they were used for law enforcement purposes to bring two violent individuals (albeit, elementary-aged students) under control,” the report said.

Kenton County Sheriff Charles Korzenborn says he “steadfastly” backs his deputy. “Deputy Sumner responded to the call and did what he is sworn to do and in conformity with all constitutional and law enforcement standards,” Korzenborn said in a statement.

The legal team that brought the lawsuit disputes the investigator’scharacterization of the interactions. From its perspective, Sumner violated the state’s two-year-old prohibition on restraint and seclusion as punishments.

And, by doing so, he caused emotional hardship to children whose disabilities already made them vulnerable, the lawyers contend.

“There are needed policy changes within the school district and within the sheriff’s department,” said Kim Brooks Tandy, the executive director of the Children’s Law Center in Covington, one of the parties that filed the suit on behalf of the students. “Those policies cannot result in traumatizing young children.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 19, 2015 edition of Education Week as Handcuffing of Students Reignites Debate on Use of Restraint

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education 'They Already Feel Like Bad Students.' A Special Educator Reflects on Virtual Teaching
In a year of remote teaching, a high school special ed teacher has seen some of his students struggle and some thrive.
4 min read
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, sits for a photo at Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos, Calif., on April 21, 2021.
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, says remote learning has provided new ways for some of his students to soar, and has made others want to quit.
Sarahbeth Maney for Education Week
Special Education What the Research Says Gifted Education Comes Up Short for Low-Income and Black Students
Wildly disparate gifted education programs can give a minor boost in reading, but the benefits mainly accrue to wealthy and white students.
8 min read
Silhouette of group of students with data overlay.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Special Education What the Research Says Most Students With Disabilities Still Attend Remotely. Teachers Say They're Falling Behind
A new survey finds that students with disabilities are struggling in virtual classes, even with added support from teachers.
3 min read
Image shows a young femal student working on a computer from phone, interfacing with an adult female.
Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Special Education Whitepaper
A Comprehensive Guide to the IEP Process
Download this guide to learn strategies for bringing together all stakeholders to plan an IEP that addresses the whole child; using relia...
Content provided by n2y