Handcuffing kids: When is it justified?

handcuffs.jpgI realize that headline sounds like a Nancy Grace special, but in the last 24 hours, I’ve heard about two cases — one in Oakland and one in San Jose — in which kids under 15 were handcuffed at school.

Are these isolated incidents, or do they happen more than the public (and certain members of the press) knows about?

Oakland case: At the school board meeting last night, the parents of a former Montera Middle School student spoke out about the time their son was restrained by a security officer.

According to the district’s account, the boy was sent to the office after disrupting the class. When a security guard and an assistant principal tried to take him into a conference room, the boy physically tried to prevent the AP from unlocking the door, and the security officer cuffed him.

District officials say the incident has been thoroughly investigated, and that it was determined that the officer acted appropriately. But the parents aren’t satisfied with the investigation. They say their son did not pose a real threat, and that he was the target of ongoing harassment. (He now goes to another school in the district.)

“It was not OK for my son to be placed in handcuffs,” his father said.

Then, this morning: I heard about another controversial handcuff incident in San Jose involving an 11-year-old autistic student who refused to leave P.E. class.

I guess it’s tough to judge these situations unless you witnessed the events leading up to the decision — and I, for one, would not like to be in the shoes of a security officer — but it does raise questions:

Should security guards carry handcuffs at all? For what age groups? And if they are only to be used as a “last resort,” how should that be defined?

image from notsogoodphotography’s Web site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Rhonda

    At Oakland Tech, I observed the head security officer handcuff two boys together because they were in the bathroom during school hours. Then this same head security officer handcuffed a small framed girl (about 90 pounds) for fighting. The parent of the small framed girl complained, but the complaint was ignored. Absolutely nothing happened to this security officer. No investigation nothing. No reprimand.

    The same school year at Oakland Tech, another security officer, attempted to confiscate, in accordance with school policy, the cell phone of a student, and some how it got physical. The parent of this student complained. The complaint was given full attention. This security officer was placed on administrative and reprimanded.

    My point is there is no equity and no justice in the Oakland Schools on any matter and for anyone.

    Oakland Schools is a subpar organization. And it’s so sad and tired.

  • Sue

    Okay, my first reaction whenever a student with autism is mentioned is “knee jerk” – my autistic kid doesn’t have the behavior issues that are common with the disability (I’m incredibly grateful for that blessing, and hopeful that it will always be true!) – and I would be h*ll-on-wheels furious if my son were ever handcuffed. Somebody would pay for that mistake!

    But, then I have to stop myself from that over-emotional reaction and consider some of the other kids with autism that I’ve met over the years. I’ve encountered a couple that I could readily accept could become so out of control as to be physically dangerous to themselves or others.

    It’s not a clearcut issue at all, much as I’d like it to be. It’s always going to be a judgement call made by the staff or security persons in the situation. Sometimes that judgement will be wrong. Do we want the security person to err on the side of safety, possibly restraining a student unnecessarily, or err on the side of respecting the student’s rights with the risk that an unrestrained, out-of-control student will cause injuries or damage? If a student-gone-berserk were to injure my kid at school, how does that change the equation?


    I just want to say that your anecdotes are unfortunate, but they don’t support your conclusion:
    “My point is there is no equity and no justice in the Oakland Schools on any matter and for anyone.”

    On some matters, for some people, sometimes, there’s equity and justice. Even in OUSD. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s attainable. I’m sorry you don’t see it and come to such a sweeping, but unfounded generalization. Yours seems to be a very sad and disheartening viewpoint.

  • Rhonda

    Sue – You have a right to your opinion just as I have right to mine. My opinion is that you think you know, but you don’t know and that is scary – If you only knew!

  • Sue

    Um, Rhonda, your mind-reading power seems to have failed you this time. Sorry, you must have been looking inside someone else’s skull, and only *thought* you were seeing what’s inside mine. (joke, okay?)

    I know that the security staff at Montera Middle stopped harrassing and threatening my husband and son while he attended that school. And now that our son’s at Skyline, the security staff there had to have a couple lessons, but they’ve gotten a clue too, and they behave appropriately.

    “Justice and equity” aren’t always easy to attain, but they’re possible, at least for my family. YMMV

  • John

    I feel like the cat who gave up birds for lent. It’s right there in front of me, that ear piercing chirpy little creature splashing about in a garden puddle, so fluffy and damp and oblivious to its surroundings. My tail is whipping about. My claws are dug in, holding me fast to my wooden perch. I won’t leap, I won’t! I promised Katy “NO MORE SARCASM,” and I meant what I said and I said what I meant! A cat keeps its word one hundred percent! No Joke, Okay?

    However, should my resolve wear too thin, someone PLEASE HANDCUFF ME!

  • http://wannabteacher-learningtoteach.blogspot.com/ wannaBteacher

    As of November 2007, there is a state policy regarding restraint of students. It can be found at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/lr/om110707.asp

    It speaks specifically to special education, but would seem to be applicable to all students.

    Under these guidelines, it would appear that state standards would allow for handcuffing of students in “emergency situations,” since it does not involve confinement of “all four extremities.”

    On the other hand, I would think that being handcuffed at school could be “expected to cause excessive emotional trauma.”

    The standards also address procedures to be used to avoid such interventions.

    Any thoughts?

    Sue, with regard to your comments about equity and justice, if justice is only available to some people, some of the time, is that not the definition of inequity and injustice?

  • John

    Yes! As a special education teacher I’ve taken a workshop in the “protective restraint” of students. I’m now qualified to be a Kindergarten cop, ever ready to met out equal (legally prescribed) restraint to the children of all families who might otherwise exercise an inequality of discretion in deciding to Sue the school district.

  • Sue

    WannaBteacher – your definition works for me.

    In my view, the reality of “equity and justice” is only available to those who demand it and fight for it and refuse to settle or compromise. I run into an awful lot of people who whine about its lack, and seem surprised that the mere idea doesn’t magically bring them what they wanted without any other effort on their part.

    Like a 2-y-o yelling, “that’s not fair!” when a 6-y-o picked up his toys and turned in his homework, and gets to pick a movie rental from the video store.

    This isn’t a political blog, so I’ll drop the subject.

  • Nextset

    Cry me a river.

    Try going to Catholic schools around here in the 1960’s with Irish and Italian Nuns.

    Just talking back to them could get you backhanded out of your desk. I remember one girl was dumb enough to show up with either makeup or red nail polish on and she was dragged to the girl’s room and violently scrubbed clean. There was diversity, the Italian Nuns could scream you to death and the Irish Nuns would beat you to death. Worse punishments were reserved for passing notes and stabbing each other with pencils.

    And when we got home the Nuns had already called ahead and our parent’s tuned us up also.

    No permanent damage done. The worse student offenders learned how to read and write and became cops. Everybody else seems to have survived the experience quite nicely. And we learned how to get away with something, not like kids today who have no sense of timing.

    So I’m just not impressed about the handcuffs. I want the Nuns back.

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  • Coach

    I am lucky I have only seen children handcuffed as a safety precaution.

    There are some real issues on the side of hand-cuffing.
    (1) Safety – In violent situations you don’t have to hit them in the head with a night stick. [ You can’t talk to a person trying to break something including you.]
    (2) Insanity – Children are insane (meaning they haven’t grown up enough to realize the consequences of their actions) This is a hi-pressure situation and an immature child may go berserk and jump out a window or run in front of a car.
    (3) Handcuffs are real and strong – they have helped a log of the “temporarily uncontrollable Children: grasp the situation.
    Twice I’ve seen kids sit-down and cry when they finally realized the horrible situation that they had created. The first time a 250# cop cried with him and he was never a problem again.
    The second crying incident was a time when a female juvenile officer released a crying 11-y-o girl who then stabbed the officer in the neck with the principles letter opener.

    I am sure there are lot of abuses out there – but they may be hard to spot.