ACLU Lawsuit Reignites Debate on Restraint in Schools

By Terry Vittone | Posted on 09.02.2015 | 6 comments
The seven-minute video shows a crying, whimpering schoolboy who has been restrained with handcuffs by pulling his arms behind his back and placing one cuff above each elbow.
One Kevin Sumner, a Kenton County, Ohio sheriff’s deputy who fastened the restraints, stands behind him. 

“Now you can either behave the way you know you’re supposed to, or you suffer the consequences. It was your decision to behave this way. If you want the handcuffs off, you’re going to have to behave and ask me nicely,” demands Sumner.
That was sufficient for the ACLU to file a federal lawsuit against the Kenton County deputy, who works as a school resource officer (SRO) at the Latonia Elementary School in Covington. According to an Education Week article, the suit accuses Sumner of handcuffing an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, who both have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Along with reigniting debate about the proper place, if any, of restraint and seclusion in schools, experts in school security say the incident brings up another troubling issue: School resource officers are often pulled into disciplinary conflicts that are better left to school staff.
“It's hard for me to watch that video,” said Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, quoted in the article. “It doesn't look good.”
Canady also noted that Sumner did not go through the national association’s training program, which, according to Canady, makes it plain that school discipline is not the role of the SRO.
The president of National School Safety and Security Services, Kenneth S. Trump, agreed, noting that many SROs have become de facto administrators in the classroom, creating an environment for criminalizing what would otherwise be a school disciplinary matter.
School District Says Action Justified
The district’s own investigation justifies Sumner’s actions, releasing a two-page report that was written a few months after the incident. The investigator indicated school staff never asked Sumner to cuff the students but also said they were unable to calm the students.
“In each instance, the children assaulted Deputy Sumner immediately prior to his decision to handcuff them. S.R. [the 3rd grade boy] without provocation or warning swung at Deputy Sumner; L.G. [the 4th grade girl] hit, spit, scratched him, and expelled and smeared mucus on him. In each instance, Deputy Sumner perceived that the students posed a safety threat to themselves, others, and him. Once the children calmed and were no longer a safety risk the restraints were removed. The handcuffs were not used as a form of punishment by Deputy Sumner; instead they were used for law enforcement purposes to bring two violent individuals (albeit, elementary-aged students) under control,” the report said.
Sheriff’s Department Backs Deputy
The Kenton County Sheriff’s Department, meanwhile, “steadfastly” backs the deputy. “Deputy Sumner responded to the call and did what he is sworn to do and in conformity with all constitutional and law enforcement standards,” according to a statement from Kenton County Sheriff Charles Korzenborn.
The ACLU legal team disputes the investigator’s characterization of the restraint. From their perspective, Deputy Sumner broke the state’s two-year-old prohibition on restraint and seclusion as punishments in schools. In doing so, the lawyers contend, he caused emotional hardship to children whose disabilities already made them vulnerable.
How would you take action against school policies that may result in traumatizing young children?
Do you know the specific duties of the SRO at your child’s school? 

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