On Tuesday, upsetting video surfaced of a police officer handcuffing a boy with ADHD at school in Covington, Kentucky last fall. "You can do what we've asked you to, or you can suffer the consequences," Kenton County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Sumner can allegedly be heard telling the boy, who sits crying in pain in a chair. (At just 52 lbs., the boys had such small wrists that the officer cuffed him above the elbows.) Not surprisingly, the video has quickly swept social media, and reignited some serious conversation about the mistreatment of children with disabilities at school — a sad reality that's become increasingly common.
Though Bustle reached out to Latonia Elementary School Wednesday, a representative for the school said privacy matters prevent school officials from speaking on the matter. However, a statement from the school said that the district "has fully cooperated with the children’s legal counsel, as well as the Sheriff’s Office in looking into the complaints, and will continue to do so."
Being handcuffed at eight years old (whether you were misbehaving or not) is traumatic enough for any kid. But it's especially bad when you add in the fact that this child has ADHD and a history of trauma, according to Today. And the boy wasn't the only kid Sumner has allegedly handcuffed for misbehavior — CNN claims that he also cuffed a nine-year-old girl with ADHD at another school, though that incident was not captured on camera.
Twitter users were quick to point out how equally strange and disturbing this story is.
"If you want the handcuffs off, you're going to have to behave and ask me nicely," Sumner can be heard saying in the video. "And if you're behaving, I'll take them off, but as long as you're acting up, you're not going to get them off." While Sumner didn't raise his voice on the recording and seemed to remain calm, school reports claim that the cuffs weren't removed for another 15 minutes, according to The Guardian. As of Wednesday, the Kenton County Sheriff's Department has not responded to Bustle's request for comment.
You can see for yourself just how it all went down:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has since filed a lawsuit against Sumner and his supervisor over the incident on behalf of both children's parents. Sadly, though, this isn't the first time a child with disabilities has been mistreated or misunderstood in school by teachers and administrators.
1. Restraining Kids With Disabilities For "Misbehaving" Isn't Actually That Rare
Though not all cases make mainstream news, there have been other incidents in which kids with disabilities have been harshly restrained at school over the last few years. In 2011, a nine-year-old boy with autism was allegedly placed in a duffel bag by teachers who said they were trying to calm him. (Yes, you read that right.) This incident also took place in Kentucky. The following year, an 11-year-old autistic boy was allegedly handcuffed on a Maryland school bus, after the bus driver and an aide claimed he bit them along with two other students, according to a Baltimore Sun report. However, none of the students who were reportedly bitten were treated for injuries.
The use of restraints in schools is also happening at incredible rates, even for kids without disabilities. A report from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found that during the 2009–2010 school year, U.S. schools put kids in physical restraints or unsupervised seclusion at least 66,000 times. (These were all noted to be non-emergency situations for kids grades K-12.)
"Shackling children is not OK. It is traumatizing, and in this case it is also illegal," Susan Mizner told CNN. Mizner provides disability counsel for the ACLU. "Using law enforcement to discipline students with disabilities only serves to traumatize children. It makes behavioral issues worse and interferes with the school's role in developing appropriate educational and behavioral plans for them."
2. An Alarming Number Of Kids With Disabilities Are Put In "Prisonlike" Rooms
For some schools, it's called the "quiet room," or even the "time-out room." For others, it's known as the "scream room" — a chilling term for the secluded areas inside schools where so-called "troubled" kids go to "think about what they've done."
According to a report by Salon, children have gotten everything from head injuries to bloody noses to broken bones while being restrained in a scream room. In one disturbing case, a 13-year-old Georgia boy was left alone long enough that he was later found dead inside. He had allegedly hanged himself with the rope school administrators had given him to hold his pants up.
If reading that left you with your mouth wide open in shock, I am right there with you. "It's hard to believe this kind of treatment is going on in America," parent and advocate Phyllis Musumeci told Salon last year. "It's a disgrace." (As the report notes, Musumeci's autistic son was allegedly restrained over 89 times during a 14-month period at his school in Florida.)
3. Teachers Are Often At A Loss For How To Discipline, And Feel The Need To Instill Consequences
It's a natural assumption we all have: If you do this, then this happens. But as this Mother Jones article on behavioral discipline points out, sometimes "consequences have consequences," and this might be the worst approach to take with kids who have behavioral issues. "Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids?" wonders writer Kathryn Reynolds Lewis. "And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don't want to behave, when in many cases they simply can't?"
According to psychologist Ross Greene, who spoke with Lewis for Mother Jones, talking about why a child had an outburst and getting at the root cause is far more valuable than simply punishing them for doing it. "We know if we keep doing what isn't working for those kids, we lose them," Greene continued. "Eventually there's this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They've habituated to punishment."
While that might be a scary thought, it's an invaluable lesson for teachers, administrators, and even parents who struggle with behavioral issues on a daily basis. One thing's for sure: A new approach is desperately needed in schools across the country, and it's needed now.