Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GAO: Some Special Needs Students Abused by Their Schools

The special needs and education community is abuzz with a report from the Government Accountability Office on public and private schools and treatment center's use of restraint and seclusion. The report on selected cases of abuse and death prepared for the House Education and labor committee found "hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on school children during the past two decades."

Examples of cases examined by the GAO include a West Virginia 4-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and autism who "suffered bruising and post traumatic stress disorder after teachers restrained her in a wooden chair with leather straps—described as resembling a miniature electric chair—for being 'uncooperative.'" In another incident, "a special education teacher at a public school was accused of using bungee cords and duct tape to fasten children as young as 5 years old to chairs designed to support kids with muscular difficulties. According to parents, their children sustained injuries such as broken arms and bloody noses while in this teacher’s class. A teacher’s aide told investigators that the woman used the restraints on a daily basis to punish the children."

The GAO finds that despite the fact that it "continues to receive new allegations from parents and advocacy groups" there is no central agency that collects information about these allegations or these methods and no federal guidance on the matter. In reviewing 10 cases in which their where criminal convictions, often involving non-violent students, the GAO finds a few trends: did not give consent; restraints that block air to the lungs can be deadly; teachers and staff in the cases were often not trained on the use of seclusions and restraints; and teachers and staff from at least 5 of the 10 cases continue to be employed as educators.

While there is no mention of any incidents on the school bus in the full report [PDF] some past incidents suggest this is something the school bus industry needs to consider, too. Take a look at the report, let us know what you think. What you share can help the industry become safer and serve special needs students better.

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We want this to be an open forum for the hundreds of thousands of people that are involved in transporting special needs students each day. We want to hear what you think, what's going on at your facility and what solutions you've found. But, please, keep it civil. Just like on the bus, we'll have no tolerance for attacks or anything defamatory. We won't write you up, but we'll delete the comments right away. So don't bother. But if you have something to share, this is your place.

STN Editors