Image Credit: Public Domain
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
According to Rep. Greg Martin (R-Hamilton County-District 26), Scott Bennett, attorney for the Hamilton County School Board, asked him to run a bill allowing both school resource officers (SROs) and school security officers to handcuff children receiving special education services, in an “emergency.” Tennessee law currently allows only SROs to use “mechanical restraints.”
As justification for the bill, Martin said, “Cain slew Abel… Children can be violent.”
According to one Tennessee attorney who spoke with The Tennessee Conservative, the bill raises significant questions of legality. Before passage, prudent legislators need to ask themselves, “What could go wrong?”
“The Tennessee General Assembly cannot legislate away liability when civil rights are violated,” our source stated. “Rep. Martin’s law proposing to grant immunity is a legal fiction.”
As recently as August 2022, a federal Circuit Court denied immunity to a Florida SRO who grabbed a teen by the face for refusing to take off his hoodie. The officer used an “armbar” technique to lift the teen off the ground and slam him to the floor. The Eleventh Circuit Court found that this was excessive force and denied immunity to the officer. Florida recently passed legislation that allows mechanical restraints in limited circumstances as a last resort, but only for children in grades 6 through 12.
Children in special education programs are protected under Federal law by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Each of these programs are tied to federal funds and Martin’s mechanical restraint law is likely to trigger a civil rights complaint that will put federal funding in jeopardy.
Children with disabilities are also protected under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Government agencies are required to make accommodations for children with disabilities and any unequal treatment creates a legal right for a child to seek damages. There is no government immunity under ADA.
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights made a clear policy statement in December 2016 against the use of seclusion and restraints on disabled children.
In September 2022, the Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement with the State of Iowa after an investigation revealed pervasive use of seclusion and restraints on disabled students in violation of ADA. Under the settlement agreement, the Cedar Rapids Community School District agreed to end the use of seclusion, reform its restraint practices, and improve its staff training on anticipating, appropriately addressing and de-escalating students’ disability-related behavior through appropriate behavioral interventions.
The TN Department of Children’s Services (DCS) has a detailed policy on the use of mechanical restraints in the event of a psychiatric emergency only, setting limits on time periods on restraints and requiring oversight and documentation. The policy clarifies that mechanical restraint is an emergency safety intervention only, not a therapeutic technique.
And finally, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recognized that children with disabilities are at higher risk of maltreatment and abuse in the population of school children. Adding this level of discipline is sure to create a trauma event for the children. The use of force sanctioned by the proposed bill, would likely be considered child abuse if implemented by a parent.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.