Indiana Teacher Cleared of Charges in Restraint of Child with Autism

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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4 Responses to Indiana Teacher Cleared of Charges in Restraint of Child with Autism

  1. I found this as I finally, finally (!), moved past my rage in order to write coherently about this on my own blog. I wanted to update your facts, though, just so you understand. While the State of Indiana does not officially have a restraint and seclusion bill, despite efforts to bring it up in legislature, the Indiana Department of Education *does* have a policy it feels the schools should use as a guideline.

    The larger issue in this case isn’t that a teacher got away with mistreating a special needs child, though that alone is reprehensible, the larger issue is, instead, that to date, still, no one has effectively brought a complaint against the district on this child’s behalf for violations of this child’s IEP, and therefore the school’s ability to rightfully follow through on their responsibility as a public school receiving Federal funds to educate a special needs student.

    Let’s not even talk about the the criminal laws, and the possibility of corporal punishment in Indiana schools (we’d be here far too long). The simple fact of the matter is, until parents and educators who *do* care understand that there are policies in place to protect these children, and how they can uphold these policies by voicing proper complaints with the Indiana Department of Education, this child and so many others will be denied the rights they are legally allowed under Federal IDEA legislation and Indiana’s own Article 7 law.

    maybe I haven’t quite calmed down enough to write about this … man! It is upsetting for so many different reasons, though, and emotional as well. I think it’s easy to get lost in the argument about the need for legislation (and there is a need, and I support this as well) and forget there are protections already in place if someone would enforce them.

  2. Susan says:

    Thanks for writing! I find the same thing here in Seattle – clear violations of rules that are already on the books, but no way to successfully challenge them. Believe me, I’ve tried, but ended up realizing that the district is a law unto itself. It’s scary, like the rules are window dressing and they can do what they will with impunity.

    Just so distressing to have the courts uphold abuse as is the case in Indiana. It sickens me that this case is hailed as a victory for teachers. A victory for teachers would be training them in autism before giving them autistic students!

    Maybe a national policy wouldn’t be as helpful as I hope/imagine it would, but it seems like it would at least be a small step forward towards bringing our schools out of the dark ages.


  3. Saharra says:

    As an autism advocate and teacher, I am glad the teacher stood up to the challenge. The court must have been presented with the child’s behavior history for the case to have been thrown out like that. Us teachers are tired of being at the wrath of these students, and practices like this teach the child “in the real world, tantrums don’t work.”

  4. Kim Thompson says:

    Our schools here in Louisiana are suffering from the same lack of funds as everywhere else, I suppose. We have to combine students who should never be combined. I myself have had able-bodied children with severe autism and sometimes violent behaviors placed right in there with students who have severe cerebral palsy and can’t get out of the way!

    There are several ways to “diffuse” anger, if the student is able to work with you, but in this situation, I had to divide my room into two sections. I placed my aides to work with the physically helpless students and I blocked our half of the room with our desks,etc. to make a separate area for the able-bodied and aggressive students to work with me. There we stayed for a full year, until the situation changed. Talk about potentially dangerous! What if somebody’s CP child had gotten stepped on, kicked, etc? What excuse could I have used then?

    Students with severe autism who have aggression need to be away from children who can get hurt. But tell that to my supervisors. Parents of those students get very defensive about their childrens’ behaviors, but they often don’t get them any help either. Maybe none is available – In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal cut 100 million from our state’s public teaching hospital funds and so doing, did away with our autism therapy services at the same time.

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