The Indiana Court of Appeals dropped charges against a special education teacher in connection with her restraint of 12-year-old boy with autism. When the student began striking himself in the classroom, she and her aide taped socks over the boy’s hands, used orthopedic belts to tie his legs to a chair, then tipped the chair onto its back on the floor. Just trying to visual that is disturbing. Imagine the child’s terror! The boy is going to be that much more unruly after being traumatized by their reaction.
Originally charged with confinement, battery and neglect, the Appeals Court called the action necessary to protect the student and others in the classroom. The court declared that the teacher’s actions fall under qualified immunity which grants legal protection “with respect to a disciplinary action take to promote student conduct … if the action is taken in good faith and is reasonable.”
Autism advocates are rightfully concerned about the message this sends to teachers. The local news account said that “The Perry Township School District was unable to provide a copy of the district’s seclusion and restraint policy." That’s because it doesn’t exist. A quick survey of state by state laws shows that Indiana has no clear policies on restraint and seclusion in the classroom, making this ruling a doubly-dangerous precedent. Indiana is one of the remaining states that allows corporal punishment as well.
The teachers union hailed the decision as a victory in the fight to protect teachers in the classroom. Sadly, the teachers should be armed with more classroom support and better autism training, not granted immunity for what would be considered assault in any other context.
In viewing threads of local news accounts, a reader stated that the boy never should have been placed in that classroom as his autism was too severe and the teachers had no training in dealing with someone with his issues. They cited the common cost cutting move of schools combining classrooms that should be separated according to level of need.
Sadly, there is still no national policy governing restraint, confinement, use of aversives and corporal punishment in our nation’s schools. Cases like these only point out the necessity of have a clear and uniform law protecting our children when they are at school from the adults who are supposed to be taking care of them.
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Let it be so.
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