Journalism in the Public Interest


Hearing Airs Horror Stories on Abuse of School Kids

GAO-09-719T Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers

Members of Congress expressed outrage at a hearing this afternoon, and it had nothing to do with freewheeling finance titans or fairy-tale financial devices.

The Government Accountability Office presented them with horror stories of another kind: One teacher duct-taped children to a chair. Another put kids as young as 6 years old in strangleholds. Another killed a student by sitting on him, and then continued teaching in another state.

The stories were straight from a report released by the GAO today and discussed with the House Committee on Education and Labor. It examines the issue of children, many with disabilities, being restrained or put in isolation in schools and institutions.

We noted a report on the topic released in January, which described the problem in chilling detail -- and put it in historical context. Laws passed in 1978 led to the full inclusion of disabled children in public schools. But in the 31 years since then, few teachers have been trained to handle the difficult behavior issues some of the children present.

At today's hearing, Toni Price testified about the death of her foster son, Cedric, who had been emotionally traumatized in his birth home.

She knew the 14-year-old was having trouble with his eighth-grade teacher. But that didn't prepare her for a call that her son was being rushed to the hospital, not breathing. She later learned that when her son had refused to stay in his seat, his 230-pound teacher sat on the 129-pound boy's back as he lay prone on the floor. The death was eventually ruled a homicide, but no criminal charges were filed.

The teacher was put on a Texas registry of people found to have abused children, but she turned up teaching in Virginia.

"If I'd treated Cedric that way at home, I'd be in jail," Price said.

The report pointed to a lack of uniform regulations, policies or laws on the topic. There is no national law, nor any legislation in 19 states, regulating the restraint and seclusion of children in public or private schools. Existing laws form a patchwork of guidelines.

At the end of the hearing, Rep. George Miller said the committee would reconvene.

"It's clear that the current situation is unacceptable and cannot continue in the manner that it has," he said.