When a student has special needs, there are two things that run through a school administrator’s head: it’s going to cost money and it’s going to require someone to exert some effort. Neither of these things makes an administrator happy, but good schools are resigned to their duty to provide a Free and Public Education. Others demonstrate little to no grasp of what that means.
In the case of 5-year-old Michael Davis, who suffered from ADHD with behavioral issues, his IEP should have included a behavioral intervention plan, an individualized means of addressing the behavioral issues raised by special needs students to manage problems, address negative and support positive behaviors. It’s hard work. Instead, the Rio Calaveras Elementary in Stockton, California decided to try the hammer method first. Hey, you never know, right? Maybe we can just “scare straight” the kid and, well, problem solved? What could go wrong?
On the one hand, Lieutenant Frank Fordo was ill-equipped for the task he was asked to perform. Cops expect people to obey them, or at the very least not to facially challenge them unless they’re looking for trouble. He was a hammer. Little MIchael was a nail.
Lieutenant Frank Fordo wrote in the police report that, after placing his hand on Davis, the boy “pushed my hand away … pushed papers off the table, and kicked me in the right knee.”
Not acceptable conduct as far as a cop is concerned. Unless the person engaged in this conduct is 5 years old. And suffers from ADHD. And can’t control his impulsivity.
This isn’t to excuse Fordo, as no slightly-intelligent adult, even a cop, can conceivably be such a tool as to place a child in zip ties and charge him with battery. On the bright side, Fordo’s reaction was limited to defensive conduct, meaning he didn’t tase Michael, beat him for the kick to his shins because Fordo feared for his safety or fire his weapon after the 5-year-old touched him. Police really hate the idea of someone touching them, and had Michael been a few years old, the possibility of serious force would be quite real.
But the fact that anyone at the school thought this was an appropriate means of addressing Michael’s behavioral issues is beyond comprehension. This is where we expect teachers and administrators to have some minimum level of competency, of understanding, of empathy, to deal with children.
Naturally, no one is speaking about it. They hide behind the “no comment as the matter is under investigation” lie, since there is never a reluctance to comment when matters are under investigations that don’t involve them.
In the comments to the HuffPo post, commenter Peter Atwood provides background about the school district’s failure.
The mother had asked the district to assess the kid. The district would not do so, violating 34 CFR 104.35, which requires a kid with a disability to be assessed. They also violated 34 CFR 104.32, which requires them to find and offer to assess kids with suspected disabilities. As the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said, the district failed to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
If this is true, then it’s an outrage aside from bringing in Fordo to scare Michael into submission. This is not merely a legal duty imposed on districts, but a moral imperative in dealing with children. Sorry it’s hard to deal with special needs students, but they aren’t thrilled with having disabilities either. Yet, as another commenter notes:
Not to condone this action, but there is a great deal of frustration on the part of educators when it comes to dealing with disruptive kids. Physical punishment means nothing to kids who are beaten at home, and the parents tend to care less as long as no one bothers them over their children’s misbehavior. You can’t talk to these kids, because they no longer trust adults. Again, I don’t condone this, but I understand the reaction to do something excessive. There are few options, and no support from the higher-ups.
If it sounds to you like the excuse of a guy who beats his wife because she just won’t listen, you’re not alone. Note that the comment doesn’t mention teachers, but “educators,” a pompous affectation spread within schools to create the impression of professionalism. Educators educate. Educators give a damn about the children under their care. Educators don’t call in the cops to do their job because it’s too hard for them to do it themselves.
And if you wonder what a story like this is doing on a criminal law blog, rather than an educational law blog, consider this comment:
Yes its time to severely punish these delinquent 5 year olds, they are a real danger to society and must be bound and hogtied to protect the poor innocent police officers, who are only doing their duty.
Thankfully, the officer wasn’t seriously hurt in the performance of his duty.