A 10-year-old autistic student, Carson Luke, was locked inside a “scream room” in March of 2011. Carson’s hand was broken after being crushed in the heavy metal doors as the teacher slammed the unit shut. Since the incident, Carson’s family has been on the forefront of exposing controversial restraint methods, such as “scream rooms,” used by America’s public school system.
According to the Daily Mail, Carson still has nightmares about the restraint methods used by his school in Chesapeake, Virginia. Carson recounts how teachers would drag him through the school’s hallways and pin him down before throwing him into the scream room. The scream room was a concrete contraption that had heavy metal doors used to lock away students who school officials deemed needed time in a secluded space. After placing the student into the secluded chamber, teachers would turn on a ventilation fan to drown out the child’s screams.
On one occasion, Carson’s mother says that her son had his hand broken as the door was slammed on the scream room. She says that the wound was so severe that the bone was exposed. The broken hand required surgery and the family wants to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to another child.
NPR reports that the practice of secluding or restraining children is not only controversial, but also appears to be relatively common. In the 2011-2012 school year, NPR data shows that these controversial restraints happened at least 267,000 times.
“That includes 163,000 instances in which students were restrained. Mechanical restraints were used 7,600 of those times.”
The report indicates that what happened to Carson was not uncommon among children with disabilities such as autism. In fact, schools reported that they placed children in seclusion rooms about 104,000 times and that 75 percent of cases were among children with disabilities. Prior to 2011, schools were not required to report when they used restraint or seclusion techniques on a student. With reporting now required, the numbers have startled many.
Civil rights groups worry about the controversial practices citing cases such as Carson’s where bodily harm is a direct result of the techniques. However, school administrators say “they need to be able to seclude and restrain students in order to keep them, other students and school staff safe.” Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, says that the restraint and seclusion techniques are necessary in the school system.
“It is used when a child is acting out in a way, for example, where they are in the process of clawing their eyes out, or tearing their hair out, or smashing their head up against the wall. And they need to be restrained so they can be stopped from hurting themselves. Or when a child will attack another child. Or when a child will attack a member of the staff.”
Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary of education in the Office for Civil Rights, disagrees with Domenech’s analysis and says that the procedure of restraining a child or placing them in seclusion indicates to the child that they have no worth.
“Where we remove a kid from a classroom, where we seclude the child or where we restrain the child, the message that we send is that the child has low value, and so little value that we won’t even try to educate that student.”
The federal government has been involved in the debate over restraint techniques in public schools since at least 2009 due to the number of students harmed or killed in school. At that time, the U.S. Government Accountability Office counted hundreds of cases of abuse, including at least 20 deaths from these techniques.
What do you think about the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in schools for children with disabilities? Are they necessary or should they be phased out entirely?