Monday, August 9, 2010

Facts The Disabled Community Needs To Know---Pass Along

HR4247, called the "Keeping All Students Safe Act" or "Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion In Schools Act" passed the house with a 262-153 vote.

238 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted for the bill
145 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted against the bill

Sadly, Marsha Blackburn, U.S. Representative from my district, voted against the bill. I was never contacted by Marsha Blackburn's office for my opinion about the bill, were you? Funny, but I thought her job was to "represent".

"It is hard to decide which is more shocking: the fact that 153 members of congress would see fit to vote against such a bill, or the fact that it was needed in the first place." (Solitary Watch--by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella)

Before making a judgement, take a few minutes to chew on a few of the following facts. Yes, the list is long, but EACH situation deserves to be read and pondered, because each represents a child's life that was impacted forever BECAUSE of his/her disability:

*7 year old girl from Wisconsin diagnosed with ADHD and an emotional disturbance died from suffocation after being pinned down to the floor in prone restraint because she was blowing milk bubbles instead of following the time-out rules regarding movement.

*15 year old boy with Autism died while being physically restrained at school by four school employees who pinned him down for 60-70 minutes on his stomach---the second child from Michigan to die from use of restraint.

*A 14 year old middle school student in Texas was killed after crying out "I can't breathe, I can't breathe" while his teacher held him down. The boy with a mental illness and other disabilities had been denied food as a form of punishment that day, and when he tried to leave the classroom to go to the lunchroom, the use of deadly restraint by the teacher ensued.

*A 13 year old from Georgia hanged himself in a small concrete-walled, locked seclusion room. The eighth-grader had pleaded with his teachers that he could not stand being locked within the small seclusion room for hours at a time. The boy had threatened suicide in school a few weeks before his death.

*A 9 year old from Alabama with ADHD and depressive disorder was held in a supply closet in a remote area of his school library with no supervision for extended periods of time.

*A 9 year old girl from Arkansas with developmental disabilities was suspended from school because she refused to go into a small wooden box in the corner of the classroom. The isolation box was completely enclosed with slide and turn locks on both the top and bottom of the door.

*A padded seclusion room was built into the special day classroom at one public middle school in California. To prevent students from leaving the room, classroom personnel held the door shut. Students were placed in the seclusion room daily, at times all day, for not completing work like writing 50 sentences apologizing for rule infractions.

*An eight year old in California with ADD was routinely locked in a school seclusion room. The room was approximately eight feet square. The boy would throw himself against the walls and attempt to scale the walls to get out of the room. The room had been built on the recommendation of the school's consulting behavioral specialist.

*In Colorado, P & A (Protection and Advocacy) launched over thirteen investigations of restraint and seclusion in the state. Children were physically placed in a "time out" room and not allowed to use the restroom, forcing students to sit in their own urine. Food was denied to students in "time out" and some were forced to wait until the end of the day to eat.

*A second grader in Florida who has bipolar, OCD/ODD, seizures and heart problems, was placed in eight open door seclusion time-outs and two closed door seclusion time-outs during the first four weeks of school resulting in trauma so severe, the family moved to another county that did not use seclusion tactics.

*A young girl with a seizure disorder and developmental disabilities in Iowa was isolated for several hours at a time at her school in a so-called "ticket booth" which had exposed wiring, baseboard heating, and a lock on the door. Claw marks were visible on the door as a result of the girl attempting to get out.

*An eight year old in Iowa who is autistic was confined alone for three hours in a storage area under a staircase at her school for not finishing an assignment.

*An eight year old in Kansas with Down Syndrome was not allowed out of isolation during the entire school day and was forced to eat and work on the floor where he was periodically observed by teachers from outside the room.

*A child with CP, which affects his ability to use expressive language effectively, in Kansas was secluded and isolated in a restroom at school all day, even being forced to eat meals in the restroom.

*A nine year old in Kentucky with autism was placed in a closet on seventy eight occasions when he did not comply with the teacher's directions.

*A six year old in Massachusetts with autism was placed in a small closet for fidgeting in circle time. He severely cut his hand on a glass pain and had to be transported to a hospital.

*A high school student with autism in Oklahoma was placed in a corner of the classroom inside a so-called "cottage" constructed of plastic pipe and mesh.

*In Tennessee, in an elementary school, students were held in stark plywood seclusion boxes measuring 4 ft. X 3 1/2 ft. a square covered with glass was carved out at the top of the box and gravity locks were used on the door. Twelve schools in Sumner County were found to be using the boxes.

*A young girl in Wisconsin who has Down Syndrome and autism was routinely placed in seclusion for hours at a time because she did not follow classroom instructions.

*In Wyoming, a 12 year old boy was repeatedly into a locked seclusion room for his failure to make eye contact with the teacher, complete math assignments on time, or promptly respond to the teacher. The child sustained bruises and was left locked in seclusion for hours at a time on multiple occasions.

*In Arkansas, an eight year old girl with autism was tied down into a wheelchair when she resisted being placed into the "blue padded room". She was wheeled down the hall, screaming, and was placed into the seclusion room.

*In California, a 10 year old non-verbal boy with multiple disabilities was tied to his wheelchair and left on the school van in the parking lot for hours on two separate days. His wrists were tied to the arms of the wheelchair, and his legs were bound together at the ankles with a nylon velcro strap. On an unscheduled visit to the school, his mother was outraged when she found him.

*In Delaware, a 10 year old boy with emotional disturbance was sent to a seclusion room and later physically restrained when he allegedly tried to kick his teacher. The boy suffers from trauma due to a history of abuse that makes him unable to tolerate adults touching him. His act was in response to his teacher touching his shoulder.

*In Florida, a 12 year old girl with autism was forced to the ground and held there 44 times during a school year. She was held once for an hour, and on average, twenty-two minutes at a time. Why? She repeated names of movies, shoved papers off her desk, or waved her arms and kicked her legs toward approaching teachers.

*Discovering bruises on her daughter's hips, a mother in Hawaii contacted the school where they admitted that the seven year old with developmental disabilities and deafness was frequently tied to a chair. In addition, her hearing device was removed by school personnel when she would not stay in her seat.

*In Kansas, a school resource officer handcuffed a child to the radiator until his mother arrived because he allegedly would not stop fidgeting.

*Also in Kansas, a three year old with autism was routinely left alone and strapped to a wooden postural support chair while other children were playing or doing group activities.

*In Maine, a child with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to earlier child abuse was placed in prone restraint by the school principal which re-ignited night terrors with the child.

*In New York, a 12 year old boy with Asperger's Syndrome was afraid to go to school because he thought the school was trying to kill him. His father discovered he was being held down on the floor by teachers to "calm him down" when he became confrontational. On at least one occasion, adults held the boy prone for 20 minutes until he stopped struggling.

*In North Carolina, children with mental illness were being taped to chairs and locked in closets by teachers. Students at one middle school were subjected to abusive restraint or seclusion including handcuffs.

*In Pennsylvania, for over two years a young boy was kept strapped to a positional support chair for two to three hours a day, receiving no instruction. A tray and three straps were placed across his chest, waist and legs to keep him from moving.

*Also in Pennsylvania, a teacher was convicted on charges of recklessly endangering students. At least six students with autism were abused by the teacher, who hit and pinched them, pulled their hair, and restrained the children in a special chair with bungee cords and duct tape.

*In Rhode Island, between 500 and 1,000 reports of restraint or seclusion have been submitted to the state department of education.

*An eleven year old with Asperger's Syndrome was frequently subjected to face-down prone restraint in South Carolina.

*In Texas, a seven year old boy with mental illness was restrained at least 75 times during the school year and endured isolation from his peers on a regular basis as punishment. The little boy was so impacted by the ongoing restraints and seclusion that he was afraid to go to school.

*In Wyoming, a parent was shocked to arrive at her child's elementary school and find five adults restraining her screaming and crying child in a facedown prone restraint position on the seclusion room floor. The child sustained multiple rug burns and bruises including finger marks around his neck.

(the above is a partial list from the National Disability Rights Network site)

While I firmly believe in the individual state's right to govern themselves, I just as adamantly believe when states fail, the federal government has an obligation to step in and make sure every citizen's rights according to the United States Constitution are protected. The list above is an accumulation of abuses that were reported. How many abuses happened that were not reported? Consider this: many disabled students lack the ability to communicate making it impossible for them report abuse.

For first time blog readers, I have joined the TN state senate race, District 23 encompassing Williamson County and a small part of Davidson County, as a write-in candidate for the November 2nd, 2010 election. When I learned of my state senator's bill ( SB2517) that if passed, would have allowed educators to RESTRAIN AND LOCK special education students in isolation rooms, I knew I could no longer sit on the sidelines and do nothing. Like Representative Blackburn, Jack Johnson NEVER contacted me to ask my opinion about his proposed bill to LOCK special education students in isolation rooms. If you live in Tennessee, were you contacted?

I received a phone message from my opponent, current state senator of district 23, Jack Johnson, last week. A bit heated in nature, this is what he said:

"I was informed today of something you posted on the web that was an outright lie; and I understand you have been informed of that by the Disability Coalition folks who I met with last week."

I am not one to lie; in fact, I am honest to a fault most of the time. So, surprised by the accusation, I went back and re-read everything I have posted on the web to see what could have been misconstrued as an "outright lie". On occasion, I have stated Johnson proposed the "Locked Isolation Room" bill to be used as a form of discipline. Be aware, politicians who support this type of legislation DO NOT like the word "discipline" to be used with the words "Restrain and Lock". My guess is they think it sounds a bit like torture or something. Just a guess.

In contrast, supporters of this type of legislation like to make the tactics sound more tolerable by stating, with grave reservation, that the adverse measures of "locked isolation rooms" should only be used in cases of emergency. They suggest situations arise where "special education" children need to be physically restrained and then sentenced to a locked isolation room in order to protect themselves and others. (Isn't it so nice that they want to protect mentally disabled children by locking them in rooms? sounds warm and fuzzy even!)

The exhaustive list of noted abuses above describes what the perpetrators considered "emergency situations". Each abuser defended his/her case. Interesting how "emergency situation" is subjective in nature, isn't it? In my opinion, most all of those "emergency" classroom instances could be more adequately described as "discipline"; which, by the way, Webster describes as "Strict control to force obedience". Can you get more strict than to lay on top of a child until he/she cannot move or to lock a child in a confinement cell? C'mon!

As individual members of the special needs community, we are but small voices amid the throngs of millions who do not stop to consider the disabled each day. However, I would like to suggest that as a team, united, we are a great and mighty force! Our passion to defend the weakest among us will prevail when we realize we are not a separate "Autistic Community", "Down Syndrome Association", "Angelman Syndrome Foundation", etc.....but a community of passionate individuals who are all standing for the same thing: making sure the special ones in our lives receive hope and opportunity for the brightest future possible!

It is for Hope and Charlie with Down Syndrome that I fight! And it is for Natalie, our adopted daughter from Russia with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that I fight! Who are you fighting for?

For those citizens who live in the 23rd district of Tennessee, if you would like to become a part of my campaign and be a voice for the disabled, please email me at I would LOVE to get a magnet on your car and/or a sign in your yard to support our campaign. I have no campaign money other than what is in our own personal bank account, so my money supply is limited at best. However, I have found a company who will make car magnets for $4.00 for me. If you would like to have one, please let me know and I will place an order!

Rest assured, if elected, I will REPRESENT my district by asking those affected by potential legislation what their opinions are BEFORE PROPOSING A BILL OR VOTING FOR A BILL. I will not be found guilty of assuming I know what is best for all without asking first.

To all citizens in the United States who care deeply about the disabled community, please let your elected officials know that you support the "Keeping All Students Safe Act"!


  1. I am in no way defending the use of the restraints and isolation incidents that you described, but as someone who does not have special needs children directly in my care or life, I'm not what the teachers should have done instead in a few of those situations. I have a feeling they were desperate to get order in their classroom for the safety of all the kids, not just the one subjected to the mistreatment. Like I said first, I'm not defending their actions at all, but I have a slight bit of sympathy for people that have been given a responsibility for children that they may not be adequately equipped to care for.

    I'm wondering if maybe there is a problem in our school systems that goes beyond just this bill, that our teachers are not trained properly, or given the resources they need to take care of these kids. Maybe its possible that they just want to keep their jobs so they don't want to admit that they can't do it?

    Just some thoughts, maybe I'm way off base. But I'm excited to see someone like you taking this on. I will pray for you (I don't live in TN so I can't vote for ya!) -Katie

  2. This blog was touching. Having been a mental health professional for over 30 years, I understand. As for Marsha Blackburn, we really need to get her out. Her Democratic opponent recently challenged her to debate. Doubt she will, but here is a link. Please send to all your friends, ask them to sign the petition, and also log onto and make a contribution. Greg Rabidoux needs our help. Here is the link to the Debate Watch:

  3. IMelanie,

    I came across your blog and found it interesting. As a resident if Franklin, I do have one question for you. You stated "Rest assured, if elected, I will REPRESENT my district by asking those affected by potential legislation what their opinions are BEFORE PROPOSING A BILL OR VOTING FOR A BILL."

    I guess my question is How will you identify who specifically in your district is affected by each of the almost 3,000 bills proposed each year by our Legislature and then ask their opinions? I just wanted to ask how you expected to accomplish this.


  4. Hi Melanie. I don't live in your district, but I am in tears after reading this. My heart ACHES for these children who are treated with such ridiculous forms of "control". I feel like if it takes 3-4 adults to constrain 1 child and you have to pin the child to the floor, then there is a major problem. The adults clearly have NO working understanding of how special needs kids think, feel, and process their surroundings.

    I used to work in a preschool and had several children come through my class that were autistic. There were times when these kids would spin out of control (overstimulated usually) and they needed to be removed. Yet because they were so sensitive to touch, you could not dare just grab them and physically restrain them. That would be cruel. Instead, you had to find ways to calm them first and then remove them. Sometimes the best solution was removing the other children to another area of the room and then dealing with the child who was so upset.

    Good educators can find ways to cope without using power as abuse. I am appauled by those stories and I commend you for raising awareness. God bless you!

    Amber Benge
    Hudson, NC

  5. I am a very long way from Tenesse but I was outraged when I read those stories you posted. This would never happen in my country. Will be praying for your election :)

  6. As the Mom of a son with Asperger's Syndrome, those stories want to make me vomit. I can only thank God that I chose to home-school him and always have!

  7. Despite the fact that the State of Tennessee passed legislation concerning restraints and seclusion, they did not remove the option. I feel that the Federal law could help support more investment in positive methods.

    Restraint and seclusion methods remain abusive, demeaning and frightening for our children in Tennessee. Most live in fear in order to receive an opportunity for an education and will develop negative behaviors as a result of this methodology. I have seen this negativity in children that are abused in this manner from Pre-K through 12th grade. The children never to graduate because of the lack opportunity for a meaningful education experience.

    According to Tn Dept of Education Assistant Technology Service Policy Memorandum #08-028, weights, weighted vests, weighted blankets are listed under INELIGIBLE Assistive Technology:
    15) Any items deemed experimental in nature, including weights, weighted vests, weighted blankets, ets. 
    The memorandum does not list straps.

    Who provides Tennessee schools with this form of technology and why are these items available to teachers without discussion or consent from the child's parents or physicians? There is no scientific evidence that this method is meaningful, and it causes humiliation and fear in some children.

    Tennessee's present special education program should recognize the huge challenges a child with a disability faces including around a 75% unemployment rate, and address the true positive intent of IDEA. I understand the meaning of "death panel" from several IEP meetings that I have attended and our tax dollars could be invested towards a more positive environment for education.

    I am deeply saddened that the Dept of Education in Tennessee is not protecting our children from this violent abuse, they are promoting it and paying for it with our tax dollars. You would think that restraint and seclusion practices would be prohibited under the Bullying Prevention Program, or doesn't the program extend to adults?