Handcuffed in hallways: Proposed laws would ban arrests & restraint of children
NOV. 17 UPDATE: The I-Team reached out the school districts where Alex Heather's children attend, and used to attend, school.
One has not responded.
A spokesperson with the other said the district could not speak about cases involving its students, but it would get back to us regarding the issue of restraints and arrests.
NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Sitting in a chair at school facing a woman reading a book, a six-year-old little girl is listening.
They are the only two people in the office until a police officer opens the door.
He says, "Come over here."
The woman in the room tells her she must go with the man who is pulling out handcuffs.
The child appears initially confused and then terrified saying, "What are those for?"
The officer begins to handcuff her saying, "Those are for you."
She starts crying, "Don't put handcuffs on. Help me. Help me."
Also in Florida, a little boy begs, "Please, please, please!" as an officer holds him down, restraining him at school.
An officer picks up a screaming child and sits the little boy down in a chair forcing him not to move.
Other people are in the room stand and watch.
In 2018, CBS 11 covered a case involving a 10-year-old with autism in Denton. He can be seen crouching in a cubby built into some shelfing in the classroom.
In an interview with CBS 11, the child's mother talks about the officers who arrested him moments after he was seen hiding.
"The very people I told him to trust, he can't," she says.
CASES AND LAWSUITS
The children in these cases can all be seen clearly on police body cam videos which the I-Team obtained.
The Texas case is one of many legal battles in the I-Team found involving arrests and restraints of young children at school.
Arresting and restraining a child is not illegal in Texas, but some parents, lawmakers and child advocates say it should be.
"RESTRAINED OVER AND OVER"
Sitting around a table, East Texas mom Heather Alex speaks very softly as she is calmly telling her 10-year-old son Isaiah, to draw a card. They're playing a card game with his brother, Isaac.
The boys love to play card and get on their tablets when mom allows.
Isaiah says he likes school a little better this year because he now has a friend.
But neither the boys, nor Alex, had liked school much since kindergarten.
Alex says, "They were restrained over and over as early as four years old." Fighting back tears and wiping her eyes, she explains, "It was hard."
Alex says her boys had challenges which became apparent when they were toddlers. "At three-years-old, they began medication."
But Alex stresses their disabilities have not caused them to hurt or threaten others. She says, "Every day is a struggle, but there are some days where we struggle more than others."
Alex has moved houses, changed school districts and just quit her nursing job to stay home. She says almost daily calls from the schools to come pick one of them up due an issue made it difficult to work.
Alex says the boys have been traumatized by the number of times they have been restrained at school.
"I can't even put a number on it. More than 50 times," she says explaining what happens. "Held down, unable to move. Secluded. Someone physically puts their hands on them. ...hands behind their backs...above their head, holding their feet, holding their body over the floor."
Following one restraint, Alex says the school nurse called her to tell her Isaac, then 7-years-old, was having an asthma attack. Alex says Isaac hadn't had trouble with asthmas since he was a baby, and, she says, he never had an attack. The school called an ambulance.
Alex says Isaac would not tell her much about what happened, but, once he got to the hospital, he described it to nurses.
Medical records state, "The patient presents with...chest pain. ...Patient says he hit his head on floor as well and has mild contusion between eyebrows."
According to the hospital report, Isaac told the nurse a teacher "...would not let him go outside after he called her 'stupid' and he said then she had to put his hands on his back and laid him on floor.
While playing cards, Alex allowed the I-Team to ask the boys about the restraint incidents.
Isaiah said it happened, "Way more than once."
Becoming more emphatic, he continued, "...countless times."
Isaac jumped in agreeing with his brother, "...countless!"
Isaiah defended his teachers when asked why this happens. "It's ok because they get frustrated because they're so many kids in the classroom and they can't think," explained Isaiah.
Alex listened to the boys talking. She later explained that restraints were a way of life for the boys at school. She said they would not admit how traumatizing it was to us.
Alex says, at one point, the school even threatened to call police to scare one of her boys.
ARRESTS AT SCHOOL
The I-Team has learned just how common restraints turn into arrests.
Nationwide, according to an analysis of US Department of Education data by CBS News, in the 2017-2018 school year, police arrested as many as 700 kids at US elementary schools in a single year.
CBS analysis found black children and children with disabilities are more likely to be arrested than their white and non-disabled peers.
In Texas, that same school year, CBS News analysis found elementary schools called the police on children 797 times in a single year.
105 were arrested.
Of those arrested, 12 were white. 34 were black. 55 were Hispanic.
Of those arrested, 45 had disabilities. 60 did not have disabilities.
"NO KIDS IN CUFFS"
Gathered in Austin more than a year ago, lawmakers listened as Texas Representative Lacey Hull from Houston presented her "No Kids In Cuff" bill in a public education hearing on September 6, 2021.
"I like many of you have been horrified by reports of school-aged children who have been forcibly restrained..." explained Representative Hull.
Hull presented House Bill 2975 stating:
"...restrain(ING) a student 10 years of age or younger unless the student poses a serious risk of harm to the student or another"
Representative Hull's office says the testimony took place late at night after a very long day on the House floor so "...not everyone could stick around to speak."
No one testified against it; however, one supporter did stick around to testify for it.
The Minerat Foundation
"Handcuffing will not just shackle their arms,..." testified Executive Director of The Minerat Foundation Shariq Abdul Ghani. "...it shakles their self-esteem."
The Minerat Foundation is a faith-based non-profit organization looking for change.
During the hearing, Ghani used handcuffs to explain what the I-Team sees in some of the body cam videos we obtained. Young children have wrists too small for handcuffs. Officers typically struggle to handcuff a younger child. In some cases, they resort to putting the handcuffs higher on their arms, near their shoulders, to make them latch and fit.
The idea for Representative Hull's bill was born in Ghani's foundation.
Ghani says they were looking for a signature policy several years ago when law enforcement in Houston expressed a concern about handcuffing and arresting children at school. Ghani says it's a "loophole" in the law and "restraint" can be interpreted in too many ways by school districts.
The Texas Education Agency defines restraint as "... the use of physical force or a mechanical device to...restrict ...all or a portion of a student's body."
The TEA tells the I-Team, in Texas, "Restraint data is only reported to TEA for students with disabilities."
Ghani says that makes the number of reported restraints appear much lower than they really are, though, he says the numbers are still staggering.
"In the 2018 2019 school year... in Texas alone. 45,000 children were restrained. (CUT) 91% of those children were children with disabilities," explains Ghani. He stresses this does not include all children and all restraints in Texas schools.
Whether the young students are disabled or not, Ghani says the immediate and long-term impact is immeasurable.
"When they're put face down on the ground...when they're crying and sobbing when a law enforcement officer or a teacher is holding them down...that is trauma that is inflicted upon them for years and years to come."
The Minerat Foundation partnered with Hull on the legislation helping her author the House Bill 2875 "No Kids in Cuff." After it stalled out, Representative Hull's office tells us they amended the language to Senate Bill 1267 sponsored by Senator Royce West.
They say the bill stalled as time ran out.
However, now the Minerat Foundation and Representative Hull are banning together again to make this a bi-partisan effort.
SENATOR STEPS IN
"We talked about mental health being an issue today," says longtime Senator Royce West.
This week, Senator West re-filed says the legislation with Representative Hull as they prepare for the next legislative session.
West is very concerned about the impact restraints and arrests have on young children.
"Think about that. If a child is treated that way in front of his or her peers, what type of psychological development will that child have on a going forward basis? Does that child become a bigger problem in the future?"
Senator West also wants to see more education and training for teachers to help them know how to handle situations which escalate out of control.
West is a longtime supporter of educational issues; however, he says he's particularly sensitive to this one, and it will be a top priority.
"I can recall seeing young people in the projects, being handcuffed," explained West who grew up in Dallas. "It's seared in my mind. Why would you do that to a child?"
Deeply disturbed by what he remembers decades ago, he says, now, he can address it. "...I'm in a position to do something about it."
HOPE FOR ISSAC, ISSIAH, AND OTHERS
"I want to encourage other parents. There's people willing to fight for you," says Alex as she discusses the legislative efforts. She plans to testify in Austin when the new bill is introduced.
It's all hope for a mother who admits feeling so alone for so long.
She told the I-Team she agreed to the interview and allowed her boys to speak in hopes of helping others as well.
"Even if you're the only one who believes in your child, keep believing..." Alex says fighting back tears as she thinks bac.
Alex tells the I-Team several resources have helped her.
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
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