US federal court OK's handcuffing teens at school

Photo from
A US federal court has approved a lawsuit settlement banning public schools in a Mississippi school district from handcuffing students younger than 13, but still allowing them to handcuff teenage students.

The settlement between the Jackson County School District and the Southern Poverty Law Center also banned schools in the state’s second-largest district from shackling students to poles and other objects. Every incidence of using handcuffs is to be recorded, and principles that continue to shackle their students to objects will now risk being fired.

It’s apparent there were severe problems that we hope now are being addressed and will be alleviated,” District Judge Tom Lee told lawyers just before signing the settlement.

The school district’s lawyer, JoAnne Shepherd, said alternative school employees were also told to stop using restraints.

The court’s ruling comes almost a year after an angered mother filed a lawsuit against the district on behalf of her 16-year old son, who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder and attended one of the schools. School staff reportedly forced students to eat lunch whilst being chained to a stair railing and made them shout for help if they needed to go to the bathroom.

An administrative complaint was later filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which triggered a state investigation into the troubled school district.

In the meantime, state officials said that the Jackson County School District could lose its accreditation if it doesn’t fix its special education problems.

The suit has showcased a nationwide problem, with the Department of Education reporting that tens of thousands of students, 70 per cent of them disabled, had been strapped down or physically restrained in 2009-2010. Advocates for the disabled students report that restraints are often abused, causing injury and sometimes even death.

There are no federal standards regarding restraints. Thirteen states, including Mississippi, also have no rules on the matter, says the Department of Education.

Alternative schools have also been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, which stated in a 2009 report that such facilities “overemphasize punishment at the expense of remediation.