The New York City public school system is going to change its policy on restraining students for unruly behavior, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
"The policy that we inherited we are not satisfied with,” de Blasio said when asked by the I-Team following a report on a 5-year-old placed in restraints. “A new policy will be announced quite soon, clarifying the kind of restraint we expect in these situations."
It’s a change that can’t happen quickly enough for Alicia Cabral of the Bronx. Cabral was called into her son Derick’s elementary school last Wednesday, saying he’d been acting up in class.
But she was far more upset when she arrived.
Derick, a 5-year-old first grader at P.S. 107 in the Bronx, had been bound by school safety staff using Velcro handcuffs.
“Just like a criminal,” said Cabral. “It was heartbreaking. I was speechless.”
The NYPD, which oversees school safety agents, said they do use restraints on students when it is required.
“The police department introduced Velcro restraints to be used as soft alternatives to conventional handcuffs in those rare instances when a child may need to be restrained for his own safety or that of others,” said Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster, Deputy Chief.
But admissions by the mayor and police that NYC public school children are indeed restrained and secluded directly contradict the stated policy of the city Department of Education, which reported zero instances of students being disciplined using seclusion or restraint in a 2012 report.
“We have a policy prohibiting the use of restraints or seclusions, so the correct response is N/A (not applicable),” a spokesperson said in a statement, before Cabral's story came to light and the mayor and police admitted the policy is in use.
Heather Vogell, a reporter for NBC 4 New York’s partners at Pro Publica, said seclusion and restraint are used in schools more often that most people think.
She cited nationwide data on school discipline and restraint in a 2012 report by the Office of Civil Rights. In that year -- the only year where there is data for New York and New Jersey -- there were 4,929 cases of reported restraints and 1,130 seclusions in New York. In New Jersey, there were 3,926 reported restraints and 783 cases of seclusion.
Connecticut, the only state in our area that tracks instances where students are restrained or secluded, reported 15,707 instances of restraint and 18,036 instances of seclusion in 2013.
Officials in New Jersey, and with New York’s state Department of Education provided documents explaining their policies allowing staff to restrain students, or seclude them under a narrow set of circumstances. A spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Education could not be reached Wednesday.
“This is happening fairly regularly in American schools,” Vogell said of the disciplinary techniques.
Donna Lieberman, the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, was skeptical that New York was reporting zero instances of restraining students long before Alicia Cabral came forward with her son’s story.
The NYCLU has filed a class action lawsuit against New York City on behalf of students who were restrained or arrested while at school. She says if students are being arrested at school, they are almost certainly being restrained. And NYPD data shows that arrests at school are fairly common. In 2011, on average, 11 students were arrest or given summonses by police every day.
“It is not okay for the DOE to say we don’t know about it because we didn’t arrest the kids, they’re responsible,” she said.
Child advocates say restraint and seclusion are poor ways to deal with troubled students.
“This is not treatment at all, this is failure of treatment,” said Peg Kinsell of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey. she said. “All it does is accumulate trauma on top of the physical injury.”
The NYC law department says they have requested the lawsuit from NYCLU be put on hold.
While they are reviewing their policies, a spokesman for the Mayor said in a statement: “The administration is committed to reducing the use of suspensions and arrests in our school system and is undertaking reforms to achieve that objective.”