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Is handcuffing special needs kids acceptable discipline? The officer who did faces backlash
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The ACLU has filed a lawsuit after a resource officer in Kentucky used shackles to discipline two children classed as special needs. It's more fuel for an ongoing discussion of discipline and what's appropriate. - photo by Lois M. Collins
A federal lawsuit has been filed after a resource officer on different occasions shackled two children who have disabilities, using handcuffs to secure their upper arms behind their backs as a form of discipline.

"The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky to declare the officers alleged handcuffing of children with disabilities to be unconstitutional and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act," according to The Washington Post. "The lawsuit also seeks to force the sheriffs office in Kenton County, just south of Cincinnati, to stop using 'unnecessary and excessive physical restraint' on children."

The lawsuit alleges that Kevin Sumner, a school resource officer from the Kenton County Sheriff's Department, individually shackled two grade-schoolers, an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, after each reportedly required discipline at their respective schools. He also reportedly used handcuffs to place their arms behind their backs, securing them above their elbows, presumably because their wrists were too small.

Both children have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the girl reportedly has other special needs, as well.

The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of the children by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children's Law Center and the Cincinnati law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl, the Post reported. The plaintiffs also released a video showing the boy in shackles. The children are identified only by initials in the lawsuit.

Discipline has been a contentious topic, much of it focused on family decisions like whether or not to spank, fueling fierce debate. We did an in-depth examination of effective non-physical discipline techniques last fall. "The question for parents is what to do when vexed a longstanding discussion that got jump started again after Minnesota Vikings professional football player Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse for spanking his son with a switch. He says he was disciplined that way as a child," the article said.

It noted that "using techniques that teach proper behavior while treating both parent and child with respect frees parents from worry about how physical is too physical when it comes to discipline."

"It's far more effective and less risky to use nonphysical discipline," Janet Lansbury, a Los Angeles parent educator, told the Deseret News. "Discipline means 'to teach,' not 'punishment.

As debated as parenting discipline techniques are, it's even trickier in a public setting like a school, where punishment is meted out by people who aren't parents of those children.

Forbes recently looked at a study that tackled discipline within schools. "Dr. Ruth Payne, a lecturer at Leeds University in the U.K. and herself a former teacher, surveyed students aged 11 to 16 at a school in England to find out their attitudes to traditional punishments and rewards," wrote contributor Nick Morrison. "A series of questionnaires asked students how they would respond to a range of measures and what was likely to make them behave better or work harder."

It said preliminary findings show that detention, missed recess and embarrassing students in front of the whole class or even punishing the whole class for one child's transgressions are among the most ineffective measures.

"Measures that did work included verbal warnings, contact with parents and being spoken to quietly, as opposed to in front of the whole class," Morrison wrote.

As for the lawsuit, "Shackling children is not OK. It is traumatizing, and in this case it is also illegal," said Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the ACLU, in a release from the organization. "Using law enforcement to discipline students with disabilities only serves to traumatize children. It makes behavioral issues worse and interferes with the schools role in developing appropriate educational and behavioral plans for them."

An ACLU news release reported that children with disabilities make up about 12 percent of the overall student population, but are 75 percent of the students who are physically restrained by schools, based on U.S. Department of Education data. "These disciplinary practices also feed into the 'school-to-prison pipeline,' where children are funneled out of public schools and into the criminal justice system. Many of these children have disabilities, yet instead of receiving necessary educational and counseling services, they are often punished and pushed out," the release said.

The lawsuit also names Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn for inadequate training and supervision of Sumner. WKYT noted that "both children were being punished for behavior related to their disabilities. Neither was arrested nor charged with any criminal conduct."

"Kentuckys school personnel are prohibited from using restraints, especially mechanical restraints, to punish children or as a way to force behavior compliance," Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children's Law Center, said in a statement quoted by the River City News. "These regulations include school resource officers. These are not situations where law enforcement action was necessary."

The suit seeks both damages and injunctive relief.
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