Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Updated: 11:12 a.m. Monday, Oct. 11, 2010
Posted: 9:06 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010
"If this was my child, I would want to know," an anonymous teacher warned her. "They're restraining your son."
Foster and her husband raced to the school to find 12-year-old Joshua held down by five men. Two had pinned his arms to a mat, two held down his legs, and another had his knee in the back of the 80-pound boy, who has a curved spine.
Joshua, who also has autism and cerebral palsy, had refused to go to art class and would not move from the school courtyard.
Joshua was subjected to an especially harsh form of prone restraint, a maneuver in which the child is held face down until he stops struggling.
So risky that six states have banned it outright in schools, prone restraint remains legal in Florida: Palm Beach County schools have used it on disabled students more than 1,500 times since 2007, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis. Most were elementary schoolchildren. Some were in pre- kindergarten.
Prone restraint is used to immobilize an out-of-control student. Typically, two or three adults pull a student from a standing position down to a mat or other surface onto his stomach, and hold his limbs down.
It's almost exclusively used with special education students.
Injury can occur several ways. Adults may accidentally compress a child's chest, cutting off his air supply: A Cornell University study cited asphyxia in 28 deaths of children or teens after prone restraint. Because the child is face down, it can be hard to see signs of distress. Improperly applied pressure can bruise, or break a bone. Students with cardiac or respiratory conditions such as asthma are at special risk of injury or death.
"The national research was just overwhelming," said Michael Rench, Ohio Rehabilitative Services Commission administrator and a player in Ohio's decision to ban prone restraint. "We could not imagine why we would do that to people. It just was not defensible."
Even absent physical harm, a child's experience of being pushed to the ground and forcibly held can trigger emotional trauma that shows up as depression, increased anger and fearfulness, according to studies by national disability rights groups.
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