By Guy Stephens
Community concerns have been raised recently to the Harwood Unified Union School District about the use of prone restraint in schools. The use of prone restraint is a serious and important issue. Prone restraint is dangerous. While intended as a crisis management approach, physical restraint is often used on very young disabled children as a means of behavioral management. Unfortunately, many individuals have died due to the use of prone restraint. In 2009 the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted research and found hundreds of alleged abuse and death cases related to the use of physical restraint.
During a recent school board meeting, Superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease made several inaccurate statements, including the suggestion that HUUSD cannot create a more restrictive policy than state regulations. While minimally, school districts must meet state law, districts have the ability to make policies that exceed the state requirements. Banning prone restraint is not a question for the district's attorney but rather a matter for the board of education and the community to determine appropriate policy and practice. We suggest that the Harwood Unified Union School District should consider a policy change to prohibit prone and supine restraint and enact a prohibition on the use of seclusion. This change would be consistent with the Keeping All Students Safe Act (HR 3474), which is currently proposed federal legislation.
On April 29, 2020, Cornelius Frederick was restrained in a face-down prone position after throwing a sandwich in the cafeteria of the Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Two days later, he died due to injuries caused by the restraint. His death was classified as a homicide. Law enforcement incidents also spotlight the risks of restraint, particularly prone restraint. Police training nationwide started emphasizing the need to avoid the prone position about 20 years ago. On July 17, 2014,Eric Garner died in the New York City borough of Staten Island after Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, put him in a prone restraint while arresting him. Mr. Garner said, "I can't breathe" at least 11 times before his death during the restraint.
Many have come to realize the dangers of prone restraint. Over 33 states have banned the use of prone restraints in schools. There are far better ways to work with children, even children whose behavior may at times escalate. It is possible to reduce and eliminate dangerous restraint and seclusion practices while ensuring student, teacher, and staff safety. The conversation started at the recent Harwood Unified Union School District Board of Education meeting and has the potential to save children within your district from trauma, serious injury, or even death. We can and must do better for the children, families, teachers, and staff of the community.
Thank you for your consideration.
Stephens is the founder and executive director of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint.