Part of the Bay Area News Group

Handcuffs can get smaller than you’d think

By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, May 7th, 2008 at 6:31 pm in safety and discipline.

minihandcuffs.jpgIn January, I blogged about a middle school boy who was handcuffed at Montera Middle School. I thought that was pretty young.

How about 5 years old?

A mom recently called to report that a security officer cuffed her son to a chair at an elementary school in North Oakland. (She’s not sure for how long.)

The mother told me that the officer said he had been unable to control her son, who had been screaming and throwing a tantrum, and that he later apologized to her for what happened.  “My goal is to not allow any other child to be handcuffed,” she said. 

I haven’t yet talked to anyone at the school, so I’ve admittedly heard just one side of the story. (Troy Flint, the district spokesman, hadn’t heard about it as of this evening.)

The details of this case aside, what measures do school staff typically use to calm or control a child of that age? Should security officers at elementary schools carry handcuffs?

image from ggmossgirl’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

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  • Nextset

    This is an interesting subject. High Schools are often protected by peace officers with full armament. But elementary schools? And out of control 5 year olds?

    I would like urban elementary schools to have peace officer protection if the school district thinks it desirable because of problems with people (some mentally ill, some gang members) coming on campus to attack the kids – which I have seen plenty of. But in many cases that is not frequent enough to justify the high costs of peace officer protection. And face it, not all schools have the status to get the protection and the budget money.

    As an aside I have Jewish friends in Southern CA who sent their kids to a children’s program protected by imported Israeli Security agents. There were no incidents but it was decided to have world class protection for those kids because some of them (and the school) were high-value targets due to their parent’s position in the financial and entertainment industries. Not only was money spent on imported security staff who understood the threats and how to respond to them, but significant money was spent on defensive devices – in ground pop-up barriers, etc. When you are dealing with high value protectees there is no uncertainty such as we have here.

    Little kids normally don’t require handcuffing. Locking in a closet or cell usually does it. (I’m kidding here) If the child is psychotic and a danger to self – which happens – they do have pediatric straight jackets. Why is a psychotic 5 year old in a regular school anyway?

    I wish the schools would screen for distrubed and dangerous children and put them in alternative schools which are set up for them. It’s not fair to the disturbed kid or the other kids and staff to dump them in mainstream schools. People get hurt when not put in places safe for them.

    As far as handcuffs, I leave security measures to the sound discretion of the super & principal. If they want them distributed I’m sure they have good reason. This bothers me but we aren’t the ones running the school, we have staff for that and that includes making these decisions.

    Maybe plastic handcuffs?? Or fur lined?

  • communitymember

    I am a staff member at the school described. Thank you Katy for your integrity in not naming the school until you are able to speak to all parties involved.

    This 5 year old is a new student to our school, having transferred in approximately 4 weeks ago. He came from another OUSD school, one where he was repeatedly suspended for his behavior. I believe they tried numerous interventions with him that were not successful. This child wants to go home to his mother and he is determined to find a way to do so. Unfortunately, schools are in a difficult position when a child demonstrates severe and unsafe behaviors – do we send them home (in affect rewarding them)? His behavior at both schools involves assaulting multiple students and adults at the school in order to achieve his goal. All behavior has communicative intent; it may be verbal or non-verbal. I have observed him going up to staff members who were just standing there and kicking and hitting them hard enough to hurt.

    Let’s talk about safety in schools and the reality of this student’s behavior. We (every single staff member at our school) have made a commitment to support this student and redirect him so he can be successful. On the day described in your posting, the school security officer (who has a positive relationship with the student) basically had to hold him in his arms for over 45 minutes while the child hit and kicked him. Any time he was put down, he tried to run. He has a history at both schools of trying to leave the school grounds. We are trying hard not to suspend him, not to send him home, but to find ways for him to be successful in school. Above all, we need to keep him safe as well as ensure the safety of others. The following are some of the things we are currently trying or have already done:

    1. Held a 2 1/2 hour SST (student study team) meeting which was attended by our Network Executive Officer. The purpose of this meeting was for the team (including the mother) to develop an intervention plan to support this child.
    2. Designing and using a daily behavior log which allows the student to earn “free time/play” with staff members at the school he has a relationship with
    3. Provided the student with a wedge, sensory support seat to sit on to give him additional kinesthetic feedback due to his learning style
    4. Daily phone communication between the principal, teacher and mother.
    5. The principal has given the mother her cell phone to call any time
    6. Keeping him at school so that he finishes the day, even when that means he spends hours with the principal. Yesterday, he spent over 2 hours with her and was able to complete the day at school. Today he was able to stay in his class until he was picked up.
    7. He spends positive time daily with the school security officer to maintain that relationship
    8. He has check-in re-entry any day after he has had a bad day at school. This allows him to know that we believe in him and that he is starting each day with a clean slate.

    No one would say that restraining a child is optimum. Unfortunately, in some cases it is necessary to keep a child safe. We are trying everything we can think of to help this child stay in school and relearn his communication strategies. I have never had the privilege to work in a school where every single member of the community works together to support its children, before I came to this school. We are known for welcoming all children, even the most difficult ones. We do not wish for them to transfer elsewhere, and believe that this child can be successful. I welcome your thoughts and hope that people will not sensationalize this story.

  • Caroline

    At my kids’ elementary school, there were two boys who had similar behavior issues. Both of them used to break and run out of their classes and climb a tree in the playground. (Different grades and classes — I assume that the tree-climbing habit of one inspired the other.) Once I came to school with an outsider visitor and we passed the tree, where a para was standing below it trying to talk one of the boys into climbing down. Eventually the school district cut the tree down — I don’t know what happened to the boys, since my kids have long since moved on from the school.

    I appreciate Katy’s restraint and determination to hear all sides too. Reporters (and I include my friends, since I’m a newsroom veteran married to a daily-newspaper reporter) sometimes don’t get that the PR folks can’t just blab away about a kid’s personal issues, as with the Piedmont Elementary bullying story — which means that the other side may not get told at all.

  • Nextset

    CommunityMember: It’s important that the schools defend their reputation publicly when something like this happens. You have done that well.

    My Paralegal has a severly disturbed 12 year old child that was removed from the regular public school and placed in a locked down county school with – 4 teachers in a classroom for 10 kids. For once she can work without endless phone calls coming from the child and the school on a daily basis. In his new school he has no access to a telephone and the school won’t disturb her at work unless there is an ambulance involved. The child can be a danger to himself and others (sudden no-warning violence, weapons, self harm) but the special county school is staffed, equiped and trained to handle such children. They even have specially equipped and staffed school buses to handle only their kids.

    He actually likes his new school, he’s been there a year. No more school drama (at school anyway, he was confined in a psych hospital in Fairfield on a §5150 hold over Xmas and there have been serious problems at home). We still feel he will face eventual imprisonment or institutionalization as he reaches 18. It doesn’t look like anything can really save him. She still tosses his room often for hidden knives and counts the kitchen knives.

    At what point will your regular public elementary school remove a disturbed and special needs child to a school properly established to handle special needs?

  • Mom

    I am a parent of a child in that school & a gaurdian of a student in the class of the child spoke about in this blog, and was notified of the blogs existence by a staff member just moments ago, and am truly appalled! After being present at the school on numerous occasions (both in the classroom/office & in the hallways) I have witnessed the EXTREME, IRRATIONAL, UNSAFE behavior of this young misguided child, in fact, I believe that I was there the day the mentioned incident happened. Without speaking on the day mentioned in detail, I will share an overview of why I would FULLY SUPPORT the use of any necessary force used to ensure the safety of ALL students, staff, or visitors when they encounter this “5yr old elementary school (kidergarten to be exact) child”, even if it is as extreme as having the local authorities remove the child from the setting.
    This child (lets just call him SJ{Sincere Justice}) has demonstrated to teachers, administrative staff, support staff, peers & other parents that he is emotionally, socially, & mentally incapable of being a member of a structured environment such as a general educational kindergarten classroom. Within 20-25 minutes of arriving to school, on an EVERYDAY basis he strikes, bites, kicks, & throws objects at other students, teachers, support staff, & administrators. He destroys/defaces school property & the property of his classmates with no concern as to consequences. My son is actually afraid, and I use the verbiage AFRAID with strong conviction, because that is what I have been told by MY NIECE, to come to school! Repaetedly he disrupts class almost immediately after the teacher starts instruction verbally, and then physically. This type of behavior is hindering to the other children in this class & other surrounding classrooms.
    I’ve spoken to the teacher, the principal, & the security officer for the school, and inquired to them if this childs family is aware of the full extent of his unsafe altered, mentally disturbed, dangerously unstable, borderline psychotic behavior. The response I received was, “we are working towards aiding this family in proper placement for him.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete hard uncaring individual, but I will say that altho my response was not verbalized to the individuals in which I posed the question, it was direct & to the point, “so we as parents of other children at this educational institution are supposed to allow our children’s safety, and opportunity to learn be interrupted because 1 child has been improperly placed in our community?” No, I think not!
    So to address the meat of the blog, YES, YES, & again YES, I support the use of forceful restraint by any school staff to ensure the safety of EVERYONE on or around school property! I do not believe in the slightest shadow of a doubt that an out of control 5 year old is any less dangerous than an angry middle schooler. I can safely assume after knowing the officer for the last 9 months, that he would not arbitrarily misuse any authority he has been granted on a child undeserving. If it were my niece, I would still feel the same way for I am A FAIR & IMPARTIAL parent.

  • BeBe

    OUSD clearly has a discipline problem that needs to be addressed. There are two sides to every story, I am sure that security exhausted all avenues before resulting to handcuffs(that is not the part that she is telling you).

    I have been to schools (elementary, middle, & high schools) where some students, even a 5 year old, were so out of control that no one could control them. So, what do you do when a student is a danger to others and to themself? Do you allow the student harm others or themself? Trust me, there have been many occasions where this type of restraint was needed until a parent,or police could intervene.

    In saying that, this raises the question. What is happening at home? Alot of these children are clearly acting out on emotions that has absolutly nothing to do with school. Their parents want to place the blame on their child’s teachers or other staff members.

    Schools in urban areas have clearly become a dumping ground for children with behavioral problems and who are border line psychotic. These students shouldn’t be mainstream in a regular classroom disrupting the learning process.

    These children would never be sent to the “hill schools”. Instead, they’re sent to schools that are short on staff members and that have over crowded classrooms. These teachers are over worked and under paid, this actually applies to the entire staff.

    When they send these students with “abnormal behavioral issues” to urban schools, they do not include an instructional guide on how to address these type of students.

    School is supposed to be an institution for learning and not a babysitting facility. Many students are at school from 6 1/2 to 8 hours per day, which means that they spend very little quailty time with their parents. These parents who want to place the blame on the schools for their childs actions should start taking responibilty because discipline starts at home.

    So, what does that tell you? I wish you could be a fly on that wall!

  • Mom

    May God help us!

    I am the parent of the child in question, never would I have thought adults would bow down throwing mud at a 5 year old. It is unacceptable and irrespirable to publicly disclose my child’s record.

    In the article at no point did the author or me attack the school, or it’s staff. Often we grow sensitive and misconceive a voice of love and advocacy. As stated in the article my concern is that no other child gets handcuffed period. That is a policy issue that I want abolished, and not you or your staff.

    Amazing how adult are rallying up against my child. Your school was recommended. I was told my child would receive support in a small class of 17 students (there are 22). Now you’re painting the picture that my son is not fit to attend your school, and interesting enough diagnosis are being handed out like candy.

    Every child needs special education; it is up to us as adults to evaluate and assess their learning style. I have work with 14-20 for the past 13 years, and never did I publicly assassinate their character or the educator/institution responsible for their development.

    My heart is tired, and unclear of any of your intent.

  • Nextset

    Mom: Your posting is irrational. Nobody is rallying against your child who we don’t even know. We see no record and certainly no identifying info on your child.

    You go on to state that your child was to receive “support” at this school. From that one would infer he is a special needs child. Is the school in question set up for special needs children?

    For what it’s worth I have seen cases where families kept their special needs children in regular schools with progressivly worse incidents until the situation was nearly life threatening, We know that can happen. If the child has some special need that is normally served at another school your paroblems may be solved by identifying the school and arranging the transfer.

    Your own needs in raising the child – if you can benefit from assistance – will be served by consulting as many sources as you can and getting what help is available. In the case of my Paralegal, she had no idea the special school existed until there was a final incident at the first school and somebody finally told her about the (expensive) free help available to families with special needs kids. The support from the County school has made a huge difference in her ability to work and her stress levels, and the child actually wants to get up in the morning and go to school.

    No one here is attacking your or the child, we wish you the best. Solutions to problems come unexpectedly when you can discuss them.

    Good luck!

  • Nextset

    typo: “problems” sorry!

  • S.K. Mom

    I jst had to take a moment to concur, and visualy state my support of the comments made by Nextset as well as BeBe. My ? is at what point are the parents held responsible for their child’s behavior w/out passing the buck of blame onto others.
    I read the comment from communitymember, and would have to ? how academically productive can it be for the child to spend so much time outside of the classroom, and with other staff that do not possess credentials not only in teaching, but being skilled to work with an emotionally challenged child? To me, it sounds as tho the motives of sending him to school to LEARN has proved & continue to progress at being futile. With keeping that ? in mind, how much work of their own can staff complete if they are using work hours to “BABYSIT” this child while he is spiraling? Would you not think that it is in the best interest of the child (since his safety is where the whole cyber conversation is stemming from)be placed appropriately, where there is staff skilled to work with children experiencing difficulties adjusting? To have to spread your staff so thin to accommodate the needs of 1 child who has a history of questionable behavior when you are designed to service many is misuse of structured job responsibilities. Wouldn’t you think?
    In regards to the parent of this child…I thought this was an open forum for feedback. Was I incorrect? Although the end of the word feedBACK sounds a lot like ATTACK, the definitions are very different. I would never attack the maliciously or otherwise assassinate the character of any child, I am a mother for God’s sake! I simply stated in my comment “Mom Says:
    May 7th, 2008 at 10:16 pm” the behavior I witnessed, and this is not be the best setting for your son, other students, and staff alike. We all want the best for our children, and I would hope that you are no different. Having said that, wouldn’t you want SJ to have all of the resources that are afforded to him within the district? He’s not a “BAD” child, not at all, not by any stretch of the imagination! I’m not saying that he wouldn’t maybe one day be able to flourish in a regular school setting, I am merely stating that appropriate placement for him NOW can make all the difference for his future. If you did not want it discussed, don’t put it on the agenda! It was on your heart enough to bring to the attentions of others if the officer was negligent or harsh in his actions, why not paint the full picture to readers so that there understanding be unbiased? Although we started out at the beginning of the year with 2 officers, we are down to just 1. If he is spending more than 45mins physically restraining a child after the family has neglected to respond, who is securing our school?

  • cranky teacher

    The public schools exist in a constant state of scarcity. We are 46th out of 50 states in per capita spending — and spend nearly half as much as the top states. The adults in these institutions are stretched to the breaking point.

    To argue, then, as community member and the mom do, that one student should be allowed to take so much of the attention of 3 or 4 adults everyday seems ludicrous to me, and completely inefficient. The mom’s point of view, of course, is totally understandable — she is looking for help. But the litany of resources communitymember endorses for a child who apparently shows no sign of improvement is extreme.

    A special day class with a high student-teacher ratio is at least feasible, but when the principal is babysitting an out-of-control child (and I have seen this at my childrens’ schools), it is like having the CEO of a company work the counter in a single shop.

    I think all of us who have children in urban public schools have seen this scenario play out. My son’s teacher almost quit — and she is the star of the school, according to her colleagues — because she believed a bully and a “runner” in her class needed a full-time aide if he was going to continue to be mainstreamed. Things finally came to a head when the mom pulled the boy out to another district, where the whole process begins again. Yes, he was very bright, very sweet sometimes, but so what — he couldn’t function in a classroom, hitting everybody, running into the street, melting down until an adult had to sit there and hold him for 10-15 minutes.

    Frankly, at some point keeping a kid like that in a big class is cruelty, long before you put restraints on him or her. Everyday is a traumatic experience.

  • Biddy

    It sounds to me like Mom needs to hire a lawyer PDQ. This is a special education issue and it sounds like outside services need to be employed to find a successful learning milieu for this child. So Mom, get a lawyer and set up a meeting – OUSD needs to start spending some money on this child and stop wringing their hands. Also parents of non-special education children – walk a day in our shoes – and you will not be so quick to condemn!

  • Nextset

    Lawyers are expensive. Aren’t there advocates available to work with parents to find services for a special needs child?

    Im my Paralegal’s case, the child was becoming increasingly more violent and disturbed since I first met him at 4. He has command hallucinations which are (normally) controlled with antipsychotics, and history of suicidal ideation and assaultive and explosive rages. He was kicked out of various public elementary schools. The special school he is in that stabilized him during school wasn’t “discovered” by the family until he was 10 years old. He’s a Kaiser patient and the medical care is satisfactory.

    The family would have placed him in the special school years ago if they’d ever been told about it. It is a public alternative school run by the county for kids from many different school districts that cannot be safely handled in a regular school. After his latest public school expulsion the familiy was offered this arrangement and everybody is quite happy about it. A special school bus picks him up and returns him home – he is under control at that point by staff who know all about his medical and psych history and medications and are able to deal with anything. The school is high control and locked and the kids don’t get to use phones (and bother their parents) which was a problem previously. The teacher student ratio is superb and everybody is rated for controlling such children. They have field trips, and classes in the same subjects the normal school does. It is hoped that puberty may improve this childs stability but we all know it may worsen things also. Both parents work all day and work evenings in a home business, there are 3 kids at home. They live their lives and expect things to get better. The child has been warned that if and when he crosses certain lines he will be placed in an institution.

  • communitymember

    In no way was your child’s record disclosed or confidentiality breeched, any more than of the school. I am somewhat confused because both posting #5 and #7 have the name “Mom”, yet they are clearly not written by the same person. Katy, it would be helpful if the same name could not be used by different people.

    To Mom #7 (who I believe is the mother of the child), I certainly hope that my posting in no way was slinging mud at anyone. I intentionally kept it totally positive and focused on what we are doing to help your son achieve success. I did not diagnose your son with or as anything. He is a 5 year old with behavior problems. I made it clear that our entire staff believes in him and welcomes him at our school. We do believe he can be successful and learn appropriate responses. We do believe that once this happens he will be able to “last” in the classroom all day and access the content he needs to progress academically. And no, of course we hope that he never has to be restrained again, anywhere.

    I am sorry that others have taken the opportunity to speak in what you feel is a negative way about your son. Please know that those of us employed at the school do NOT concur. That is the downside of online communication; the anonymous aspect of it allows people to vent in ways that they normally would not.

  • Nextset

    CommunityMember: It appears that you are indicating to Mom that in no way was confidentiality breeched, then Apologizing to her because she feels bad because of something someone else said that maybe upset her.

    Save your apologys. If you give them out too freely they have no meaning. Either you did something wrong by appearing on this blog and defending the school as you did, or not. You are not responsible for anything said by others. If you think commentary is wrong or should have been stated differently I hope you’ll address that directly – we all learn by blog discussion.

    Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, NEVER apologize to make someone feel better, it only makes them worse. If there is a mistake and you say so it should be genuine, not “sorry you are unhappy”. If people are unhappy they may just need to change or work harder. Being unhappy is what makes people change for the better. I don’t think Mom or her child was attacked. What happened to her child upsets us and we’d like to explore ways to minimize the shackeling of 5 year olds. But things usually happen for a reason. By talking about it maybe in the future different ways can be found.

    And if you’ve ever worked with a family who lives in fear of the phone ringing, all day, every day – because of what can happen with their child in school it’s hard to describe the anguish to someone who hasn’t lived with it. My Paralegal, myself and her family all have the ER & Fire direct phone numbers in cell phone memory, and the numbers of her other close relatives and neighbors for emergency assistance. She never knows if a call would come in from the old school or from her house that there’d been a stabbing, or he’d tried to kill himself following some upset while the parents were working. We talked about how we would respond if that call came. The other kids (siblings) were told what to do in certain circumstances. That child has never once had a non-family member babysit, never been allowed to sleep overnight at a friends’s, never gone to camp or anything – or go to a movie without a parent/adult relative. The special school is the first time since I’ve known her that the mother was able to relax during school hours knowing that the child was in capable hands.

    I just don’t see how a manstream school is able to safely handle some of the special needs kids. They need the structure, support and higher staffing levels of special ed schools. And teachers should not be given special needs kids they are not equipped to safely handle.

  • Caroline

    I agree with Nextset here:

    “I just don’t see how a manstream school is able to safely handle some of the special needs kids. They need the structure, support and higher staffing levels of special ed schools. And teachers should not be given special needs kids they are not equipped to safely handle.”

    Because the law (written by politicians without the slightest experience with these issues) requires schools to accommodate disabled students in mainstream classrooms if possible — and because there’s not sufficient funding for the resources disabled students need, thanks to this unfunded mandate again by clueless lawmakers — it is often way too hard to get kids into the specialty classes and schools they need.

  • Biddy

    Agreed lawyers are expensive but it’s amazing how Special Education administrators get a little more ‘flexible’ when they have to face a family who hires a lawyer. Suddenly ‘outside’ services become more accessible – I wonder why!!

  • B Conscious

    It appears that the rash of replies (mostly reactionary and thoughtless) to the reporter’s questions have been blown this ‘ship’ extremely off course. So I’m going to pull out a compass and try to steer this ship back towards a meaningful & thoughtful destination. The question put forth in this e-forum was what is/are appropriate disciplinary and safety measure(s) to use with an out-of-control 5 year old child who is a student is a school? That is the question people. NOT speculating on the parenting skills of the parent, the developmental level of the child, nor whether or not the child is or is not receiving special education services. Nor can we make any conclusions on the many contributing factors that led to child’s acting out on that day, or any other day, or what led to the school’s security officer choosing a restraint method that was demeaning and extreme. I attended the administrative meeting between the parent, the school principal and the security staffperson the following day after the child was handcuffed. After much discussion, the security officer himself even noted that his choice to handcuff the child and leave him unattended was extreme and not in child’s best interest. He also, as the only security staff person employed at the school, said he felt overwhelmed at the time by competing demands to attend to other children who were in crisis. But back to the handcuffed 5 year old: the boy was not threatening anyone and he was not a run risk. Had his behavior been disruptive that day? Yes, all parties (including the parent) acknowledged this fact. It is not necessary to go into all the specifics of his behavior that morning; only to note that although he was not following the classroom rules and refused to comply with the teacher’s requests in that instance, he was not endangering himself or any of the other students. In fact, if the child had been a student in special education and had been handcuffed and left unattended in a room, most likely that school would be in severe violation of PL 94-142. State and federally-funded education institutions that serve children and adults with disabilities must have disciplary policies that CLEARLY SPELL OUT when and under what conditions physical restraints will be used—as well as what kinds of restraints are used, how they will be applied and by whom, as well as what kind of training the staff have had to ensure a certain level of competency. So again, we return to the reporter’s question. In the meeting, the mother asked the school principal for a copy of the Oakland Unified School Disctrict’s Elementary Student’s Discipline and Student Safety Policy, wanting to see if there was a documented rationale for ‘handcuffing’ children as part of the OUSD’s approved strategy. As of today, this document has not been provided to the parent. On a higher level, we—as a community—have to really look deeper at what went on here. Not just with this one boy; his case is a ‘canary in the coal mine’. I imagine there are a number of other parents and guardians who are either too disheartened and/or cynical to continue asking the difficult questions regarding how their children are disciplined in schools when they are being disruptive, but not dangerous. Disruptive but not dangerous…nuanced thinking. AND EXPECTING ACCOUNTABILITY FROM OUR SCHOOLS, AND DOING OUR PART AS THE COMMUNITY TO MAKE THAT HAPPEND. It’s far to easy and predictable to engage in victim blaming & fingerpointing at the mother and child. And noting the tone of many of the replies thus far, these entries are a hugely disappointing litmus test of where people’s mindsets are regarding the basic human rights of children–whether they are special education students or not. Would there even be a need for this conversation if we were talking about 5 year olds acting out more affluent schoolS the Bay Area that serve a primarily white and/or upper-class population? In California, which invests more in imprisoning black and brown boys and men than educating them, this case shows how readily some community members are to start that process earlier and earlier…by introducing and normalizing handcuffing to boys as young as 5 years of age.

  • Catherine

    I agree with much of what B Conscious said. However, if a child is being disruptive, I believe that the child should be held if necessary and the parent or guardian called. The parent or guardian should have a reasonable amount of time to respond; I believe 1/2 hour is reasonable. Then social services should be called to pick up the child.

    The child should not be handcuffed by the school and the school should not be disciplining, that’s the parent’s role. The school is an educational institution, not a social justice institution, a psychotropic institution, but an educational institution.

    My mother was required to attend classes with my sister for a week when she was in high school because she was truant. My mother had to take a week without pay. She did and having my mother follow my sister in to the bathroom, eat lunch with her friends, etc. solved the problem.

    We give the educational establishment too much control and educational establishments take too much control over the way our children are raised.

  • Biddy

    So according to B Conscious this child is not enrolled in Special Education. However, given the circumstances maybe it’s time to get some independent assessments made at OUSD’s expense. This is a five year old who was transferred to the current school because of suspensions from his previous school. Mom needs support and should not attend meetings at school without a family member and Mom bring a tape recorder.

  • Nextset

    No, Catherine. Discipline is Job number one at school. It is the school’s job to discipline the children. The parent’s job is to follow that up with their own discipline.

    Whether we like it our not on occasion a school is required to physically subdue children of all ages. It goes with the territory. We may be forced to subdue a suicidal or homicidal child, an injured child, an ill child. That includes trying to prevent a child from harming themselves or others. Especially a 5 year old.

    I don’t like the handcuff thing here at all but I am not so presumptuous to try to tell those at the scene what to do when I’m not there. Was the situation made worse? If not, move on. Id there a school policy on this? Maybe there shouldn’t be a policy attempt to micro manage a critical incident that hasn’t happened yet. You keep the kids safe and call for back-up. As incidents occur and are analyzed, guidelines for the future can be formulated at least for the same problem.

  • Nextset

    B Conscious: Your writing is hard to follow when you us continous text. Can you break things up into paragraphs?

    As far as normalizing handcuffs on black and brown boys.. Don’t get me started! That should be a whole topic for Katy to post.

    In a nutshell, one reason I see for normalized handcuffing of black and brown males is that they are inadequately socialized and disciplined in the public schools – mainly because the schools are afraid of black and brown children and don’t want to annoy them or their mothers. So we kill them with kindness until they turn 18 and are held to the standards of mainstream society.

    No one tolerates people chimping out as adults. The public schools force their teachers and staff to tolerate it in the urban schools’ children. Yes I believe the public school should be teaching emotional control, deferring gratification, and rigid public deportment. They don’t, and that’s one of the reasons blacks and browns wind up in the bucket for traffic offenses and every other petty and serious thing. The other groups don’t have the same needs as the blacks and browns – and don’t have the single mother household rate – so they have a better incarceration rate.

    If the kids have bad lives it’s the schools that didn’t do right…. Good schools can help overcome unfit & incompetent parents. They always have.

  • Public School Volunteer

    I think it’s interesting that most of the comments here are critical of the school staff for using a strong measure to subdue a child who has been an ongoing danger to staff and teachers (see comment #2 from the school staff person). Yet the general public (and perhaps some of us?) recently vilified another elementary school’s staff and teachers for not doing enough to subdue a child or children after school hours. It seems to me that the schools just can’t win for losing!

    Maybe we should all spend a day in a classroom and on the playground with 20 kids, including 1 who needs constant, close supervision, so that he doesn’t kick or otherwise physically hurt the teacher. I don’t mean to be critical of those of us who have commented, but I bet we’d all be a lot less sure about what the schools “should not have done” or “should have done” in these cases!

    When I volunteer at my kids’ school, the teacher is always in the room with me. When I leave after 2 hours, I am mentally and physically exhausted — and there are no really challenging kids in the class! I have immense respect for teachers and school administrators, and it’s never stronger than right after my weekly volunteering gig!

    Maybe we should all commit to volunteering at our local schools and see what we can do to help. (I realize that I’m probably preaching to the choir here and that many of you already volunteer or help in other ways.) But I think that this is the message that needs to get out into the community and I think that those of us who feel passionately (and comment passionately) about our public schools should be the ones to get this message out there.

    After all, the kids really belong to all of us, so we should all do something to help.

  • Robert

    Hmm. Special Education, or Special Needs? Maybe we need to provide padded cells at our schools. Remember the mention that this child would try to run off, attack people and use approaches to ‘encourage’ him to be sent home? Shy of a locked, padded room or a straight jacket, I’m not sure how you could keep him. This posting had the feel of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

    I think NextSet touched on a sore spot on the ethnic differences. Personally, the cultural aspect is not strictly tied to race. When I went to Rockridge Elementary (RIP), some of the sternest parents were those of the “black and brown” kids’ parents. The kid gloves handling is a phenomenon of the ‘victim culture’ and what one poster to comments on Chip Johnston’s pieces called “White Liberals.”

    I don’t know the ethnicity of this child, it doen’t really matter. The reaction of posters to the *idea* of restraining him shows. Realistically, what were the choices the security staffer had?

    I am happy that the school staff is willing to put some effort in to the boy. Sometimes just TRYING helps. Where to draw the line is hard. The child’s disruption of the classroom and intimidation of the other students is a major problem. This is a case where I’d hate to see utterly inflexible rules, but somehing will need to bend if it hasn’t improved in a month.

    Not sure what you can DO with a psychotic 5 yr old in a school setting.

  • Nextset

    Robert: What you do with a psychotic child is restrain him to prevent immediate injury. That’s where the handcuffs were tried – and you don’t second guess emergency responders or next time they can just let the child jump in front of a truck. Secondarily you remove him from the school, indefinite suspension, pending medical clearance to return. By then you have decided if a transfer to a higher staffed higher control school is indicated.

    The example I mentioned earlier of me Paralegal’s son is useful. He’s on powerful antipsychotics and has been since early grade school. There is a possiblity of cross reaction with the numerous drugs he’s taking as well as toxic buildups (He’s blood tested on a schedule). As he gets closer to puberty his effective dosages may change and he requires re-evaluation. Sometimes he needs inpatient evaluation for drug regimen because it quite dangerous to adjust his meds before the true theraputic doses and combinations are discovered (he must be hospitalized for cessation and reintroduction of meds). As the Drs put it, the parents have to sleep sometime and he could kill himself or his siblings or them overnight if he slips loose from effective control.

    The schools may or may not know how dangerous a special needs child is. When they go “Excorcist” on you, get a clue – there is a reason for it. Some of the kids have inheirited mental disorders, this child I have experience with was birth trauma with oxygen deprivation along with a family history of psychiatric disorder. He punched holes in the sheet rock and pulled clumps of his father’s hair out at 4. But he looks normal to an untrained observer. He has subtle but telling signs of neurological disorder to a trained eye.

    People who haven’t dealt with special needs kids haven’t a clue of how bad, bad can get. You have no right to get prevoked over a rare and exceptional handcuff incident.

    As far as the parents of these special needs kids, they don’t get real until later in the game. My paralegal and some of the other parents they have now met, wasted years and nearly wrecked their marriages before they got around to the right doctors, testing and drug regimens to find out what was wrong and how to keep the kids alive and functioning. The command halloucinations were difficult to diagnose until the child was old enough to articulate what was going on, for example. It is questionable if the mother of such a 5 year old really gets it. Now when he is 17 she will be more in tune to what she has to deal with.

    And we have some people worrying (over this incident) about getting black kids normalized on handcuffs. This is a different problem where lives are at stake.

  • B Conscious

    THIS CHILD IS NOT PSYCHOTIC! It is dangerous and thoughtless to toss around psychiatric terms in a cavalier manner. Second, it is demeaning to the child and his family. Third, it stigmatizes and belittles those who truly DO have a mental illness—as well as those of us who work with children and adults with mental health challenges.

    Furthermore, for ANY mental health diagnosis, there are several criteria that must be met. And the child would be displaying such maladaptive behaviors ACROSS A NUMBER OF SETTINGS, not just at school. At this point, the school is the setting that presents numerous triggers for the child resulting in the temper tantrums and hitting.

    Does this mean that the school is THE problem? No, that is far too simplistic. For many young children transitioning into elementary school, the expectations of following rules, delaying gratification, etc. elicit tantrums.

    And yes, those children who are able to make the adjustment and meet these new expectations deserve a space that is safe and where learning & teaching can occur uninterrrupted.

    Similarly, those children who have a tougher time adjusting to the expectations of school also merit an environment whereby they have consistent limits placed on them that will keep them safe, prevent the escalation of disruptive behaviors and foster learning.

    Does the child need psychological evaluation and/or special education services? Maybe. Maybe not. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM FOR MAKING THAT DETERMINATION! That is the job of the school officials and the parents.

    I am not against physical restraints. I am for the JUDICIOUS AND APPROPRIATE use of physical restraints.
    I am for using physical restraints that PRESERVE A CHILD’S DIGNITY.

    Applying handcuffs to a five year old is demeaning.

    It was an overreaction on the part of the security guard (as he already admitted!) in the midst of feeling overwhelmed in a situation with competing demands on his time. It was also unsafe, since the child was left ALONE AND UNSUPERVISED while handcuffed!

    Many a school (and health institutions) have been cited, and some shut down after lawsuits, for failure to use physical restraints in a judicious manner.

    For the person who said race and class don’t matter, I wish that I could be so naive. As I said earlier, if this had happened to a child in an affluent school where the population was predominantly white, this blogsite entry would not be up BECAUSE IT MOST LIKELY WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED. And if it had happened, woe until that school!

    And the failure or willingness to NOT see the connection between what happens in public schools with children of color and then what happens with them as young adults is just that, a failure.

    This is the problem with handcuffing. A properly trained staff person with sufficient team support will use physical restraint measures with a child that are appropriate, keep the child who is acting out (and other children) safe and also preserve the child’s dignity.

    For instance, the security officer earlier that day had removed the child from the classroom and utilized a ‘bear hug’ hold to restrain him. That was appropriate. It protected the child from harming himself or others. And it also preserved the child’s dignity.

    I told my 88 year old grandmother about this incident and she furrowed her brow in disbelief and shook her head. She said, “I thought we had gotten over that kind of mess with disciplining our children. And the boy’s only five? Maybe it’s the adults who needed to be handcuffed!”

  • Nextset

    B Concious: Well at least you started using paragraphs.

    When we debate public school policy we debate policy, not each other’s personalities and not the pros and cons of specific people. Our conversations about schools handcuffing children deal with hypothetical children with the particular 5 year old as a reference.

    You don’t seem to get that.

    We can’t debate the merits of the instant incident, because we weren’t there and we don’t know the players.

    So calm down.

    All of us know the schools are dealing with similar issues because it’s not news. One relative of mine was a special ed teacher for over 20 years with a East Bay Public School District. She dealt with children in grades 1 to 5, some were drug babies, some were AIDS babies, some were both, in diapers (that had to be changed by staff at school) in 3rd grade. And then there’s Bio-Mom and Bio-Dad to deal with. Her job includes house calls. House calls were very interesting. Teachers like her deal with dangerous situations with medical and safety issues all day long.

    So, many people don’t know how bad, bad can get. This is the job our public school staff do whenever it’s required. No complaining, No pats on the back. It’s their job.

    So while it’s possible the incident at hand should have been handled differently that’s unlikely in my experience. I defer to the people on the scene unless they have no justification for what they do.

    Are you going to take a job in Special Ed??? Or any school job? Be my guest.

    I’m not. But I have a lot of respect for people who get up every day and go down there and keep everything working.

    So don’t look my way if you want to bash public school staff who responded to an emergency. Maybe they’ll do it differently next time, maybe not. Your protests fall on my deaf ears.

    You sound like those who complain about people getting thumped in jail, Or sick in a hospital, or injured in a football game.

  • unclear on the concept

    Perhaps if this child’s mother hadn’t called this blogger in an attempt to get notoriety (or something else), no one would be discussing her child’s record in public.

    Perhaps if public policy was discussed somewhere other than on blogs, or if reporters did their jobs, rather than reprinting the phone calls of allegedly aggrieved parents, they could affect some real change.

  • Katy Murphy

    Unclear: Part of my job as an education reporter is raise issues and public policy questions — such as the appropriate ways in which to “calm or control a young child” — in a place where anyone with access to a computer may participate.

    Blogs aren’t for everyone, and they certainly aren’t a perfect means of public discourse (especially when so many people, such as yourself, post anonymously). But I have found it very useful to read the wide range of views posted here, and I hope others have as well.

    Although I’m often able to report just bits and pieces of information, I try to be clear as possible about what I know and what I don’t know.

  • Nextset

    Unclear: I think that blogs are becoming important to policy, and Katy does a public service by what she is running here. The Oakland Tribune, and the other papers involved – increase their influence by becoming sites of public debate rather than only a place of announcements/stories.

  • Unclear on the Concept

    But what is the “public debate” here?

    Someone with a gripe against a school called a reporter. The reporter admittedly hasn’t talked to anyone at the school to check the facts and now the school, the child and the mother are being dragged through the mud. (Yes, I know the reporter didn’t use the name of the school or the child, but trust me, both are known by many.)

    How is this any better than gossip in a schoolyard?

  • Katy Murphy

    “The details of this case aside, what measures do school staff typically use to calm or control a child of that age? Should security officers at elementary schools carry handcuffs?”

    That was supposed to be the topic of this particular public debate — it was the prompt, anyway. But you’re right in one sense: People can take the discussion where they will, and for the most part, that is out of my hands.

  • Public School Volunteer

    I’m re-posting my comment from 5/9, because I really don’t think anyone read it. People were so intently arguing back and forth, that a possible solution was missed. It makes me wonder how many of us really do volunteer in the public schools that we criticize at every opportunity! Please take a look:

    I think it’s interesting that most of the comments here are critical of the school staff for using a strong measure to subdue a child who has been an ongoing danger to staff and teachers (see comment #2 from the school staff person). Yet the general public (and perhaps some of us?) recently vilified another elementary school’s staff and teachers for not doing enough to subdue a child or children after school hours. It seems to me that the schools just can’t win for losing!

    Maybe we should all spend a day in a classroom and on the playground with 20 kids, including 1 who needs constant, close supervision, so that he doesn’t kick or otherwise physically hurt the teacher. I don’t mean to be critical of those of us who have commented, but I bet we’d all be a lot less sure about what the schools “should not have done” or “should have done” in these cases!

    When I volunteer at my kids’ school, the teacher is always in the room with me. When I leave after 2 hours, I am mentally and physically exhausted — and there are no really challenging kids in the class! I have immense respect for teachers and school administrators, and it’s never stronger than right after my weekly volunteering gig!

    Maybe we should all commit to volunteering at our local schools and see what we can do to help. (I realize that I’m probably preaching to the choir here and that many of you already volunteer or help in other ways.) But I think that this is the message that needs to get out into the community and I think that those of us who feel passionately (and comment passionately) about our public schools should be the ones to get this message out there.

    After all, the kids really belong to all of us, so we should all do something to help.

  • Damon

    I can’t believe some of these posts.

    Have we really reached a point in society where we are willing to handcuff five year old kids? You mean to tell me that we can put a man on the moon, we can come together as a country and agree to give women and people of color equal rights, we can come together to protest numerous wars, but we can’t think of a way to support a single parent and a five year old child that doesn’t involve – handcufs?

    Any social worker would agree that such an act can have profound affect a young childs phyche. Is it any wonder this is going on in Oakland, a city where the disparity of young black and brown men is dysmal? Considering that this is the city’s idea of child development are we really surprised?

    What ever happen to the high road? Where are the real men and women who draw the line? There are some things that we MUST NEVER do. And this has always been one of them. You don’t handcuff children then put them in a room alone. And if that means we have to work harder at something then we work harder because the possible alternative is turning our kids into Warlords by the time their 13. These are the very same kids we will be giving the world to really soon. How do you want them to be?

    I apologize for the brief rant but this is more of a discussion about philosophy before it is a question about policy. If your philosophy is “safety by any means necessary” then we run the risk of creating policy that ignores what is humane & inhumane. That is the enormous problem with this post, we don’t have an agreed upon (even ballpark) philosophy.

    Should we be handcuffing children? NO! Should security gaurds be walking around with handcuffs? NO!

    Elementary school is not a prison yard. It worries me that in a state that spends more resources on prisons and less on education, that our schools are adopting the pedegogy of the former.

  • Nextset

    Damon: Dream On. You may live in a perfect world but the school workers and the students who have to go there don’t. Nobody wants to have to handcuff children or anybody else. But if it has to be done (on rare occasion) it has to be done. Frankly, I’d prefer straightjackets but they cost too much.

    Re-read the posts: Our poor unfortunate schoolteachers and other staff sometimes are expected to safely manage students and non-students that may be suicidal or homicidal. Students may be in danger from gang connected adults of juveniles that invade school grounds – or just your run-of-the-mill crazed sex offender, mentally ill predator or street hobo. Darn right security needs handcuffs, at the Junior Colleges the students and premises are protected by gun toting peace officers. Our primary schools deserve no less, but in truth have weaker security than the high status colleges have.

    As far as your concern that the poor black students need to be spared the spectre of handcuffs – because it may scar them for life – I don’t think so. I think the black students are just as capable of dealing with reality as everybody else and shouldn’t be spared any. If you chimp out – you will get shackeled. Learn that one early and a lot of wasted time will be saved.