Schools Have Rules: Another Autistic Kid Edition

One might suppose, given the pervasiveness of autism among school-aged children (which the CDC estimates at 1 in 110), that between school teachers, administrators and police, someone would have a clue how to appropriately deal with a 9 year old autistic child who has a melt down. But if it happens in Quincy, Illinois, you would be out of luck.

The incident began when Roger Parker, Jr. had some sort of unpleasant experience which lead to an outburst, where the teachers had difficulty keeping him under control.

They tried to isolate him in some kind of time out area, which probably made the situation even more scary and confusing for him.  When he tried to get out of this time out area by climbing a dividing wall police were already there to attempt to subdue him.

After all, you can never call the police too early or too often.  Schools are  required to create and adhere to a Behavioral Intervention Plan for special needs children, though it still leaves far too much to the discretion of school officials. On the other hand, the police are under no similar obligation.

At that point police officer Calkins ripped the child from the wall by his limbs like a ragdoll, causing his face to smash against the wall, which resulted in a massive black eye .  He was then wrestled to the ground by police and taken into custody.

The boy was detained and booked for aggravated battery against a police officer and his family was denied access to him for a certain period of time. 

The boy’s mother arrived at the police station, where she was denied access to her son for 45 minutes.
Forty-five minutes later, after they told me he did not need a parent present because he was under arrest and not being interrogated. He was fingerprinted, photographed, and booked for aggravated battery to a police officer.”

Jesse James, move aside. Baby Face Parker’s the new outlaw in town.

Kirchner said she is upset because she recently discussed a plan on how to handle her son if he has an outburst.

You would think the black eye caused by her child being smashed into a wall would upset her as well.

The law requires schools to place special needs students in the “least restrictive environment,” meaning that schools keep them in mainstream classrooms with non-special needs students if at all possible.  This has its good and bad points, as these students aren’t segregated in schools where they are hidden away. However, they still need special care, both in their education and their behavior.  These aren’t evil children, but kids with disabilities that require special attention.

Autistic children have been the subject of  numerous posts here and elsewhere, and there is a pathetic  history of police officers called in by administrators who are utterly incapable of handling them appropriately.  While  training for police in the handling of special needs children is available in some quarters, it’s obviously not sufficient.  That there is yet another story of a cop man-handling and harming a special needs child is outrageous.

It is bad enough that the unnecessary use of force on adults persists as a matter of police training and culture.  It is unacceptable when the target of force is a child.  It is outrageous when that child is a special needs child. 

While this is clearly the case with the police officer’s harming the child, the problem begins with the school’s calling in police rather than executing the behavioral plan.  There is no information to suggest that any teacher or student was at risk of harm from the student. He was likely very disruptive and non-compliant, with no doubt annoyed the teacher to no end, but that’s part of the deal with special needs children in a mainstream classroom. 

Between the teacher and school administrators, were they so incapable of addressing a 9 year old having a tantrum that they needed armed intervention?  Was it impatience?  Was it annoyance? Were they inadequately trained in the handling of a special needs child that it was just easier to make it someone else’s problem?

Like it or not, these are our children. Some have special needs. In fact, a lot do. Nobody asked for it, and no parent wants it to be the case, but they’re here and have to be dealt with.  For crying out loud, suffer the annoyance and calm them down. Suffer the disruption and deal with it afterward. Under no circumstances is a cop smashing a 9-year-old into a wall the solution to the problem.

These are children. Stop harming them. All of you.

19 thoughts on “Schools Have Rules: Another Autistic Kid Edition

  1. Alice Harris

    I don’t understand what made us into such a mean society. Where are the social scientists who can explain how this happened and, more importantly, how it can be reversed?

  2. SHG

    I think we’ve become a simplistic, impatient society, always in a rush to rid ourselves of inconvenience and leap blindly to the easiest answer without doing the hard labor of thinking. It’s not good enough. Not by a longshot. The people charged with the care of children must be held accountable.

  3. BL1Y

    I don’t understand the motivation of the police in stories like these.

    The school officials are typically lazy/ incompetent and want to pass the buck by deferring to some other authority, even if it’s a completely wrong authority for the situation.

    But why do the police always comply? You never see one of these stories and end up thinking “good thing the police were there and acting in a completely professional manner.” The police always look really stupid.

  4. John Neff

    For an incident of this type to be publicized both the school and the police have to screw up. When the school follows their own procedures and the police are properly trained incidents of this type should be rare.

    Obviously this depends on the particular school and police department and my community most of the calls come from one school. I used to be on a committee that reviewed police school interactions and there was lots of finger pointing because the local political situation prevented any corrective action.

    Children do have a restricted set of civil rights and in some of these cases those rights are being violated by the schools. I don’t think we need social workers we need attorneys to protect the rights of these children.

  5. SHG

    Rarely should a school involve police, and when it does, it’s a reflection on the adequacy of administration. And if the on-site administration can’t handle a student, the fault isn’t the students and the BOE needs to fix a broken administration. That police behave like police should surprise no one. That they are called in at all should.

  6. Matt B.

    Police should be called to schools only for bona fide criminal behavior… violence that puts others at risk and can’t be handled by school administrators, for example. Anything else is like using an axe to open a tuna can. It’ll work, but it’s not good for the tuna, the can, or even the axe.

    I find it shocking the police charged him with agg battery on a LEO. Is a 9 year old, especially one with a disability, reasonably capable of conduct and intent deserving of such charges? I’m sympathetic at times of police who have no training of how to handle mentally disturbed persons; some of them probably would respond better if they knew how and had the right resources. But the overcharging (or even charging at all) shows how wrong headed the police administration was in the aftermath.

  7. SHG

    What tends to happen is charges flow to justify the prior police conduct. Bang a kid up some, arrest and cuff him, and there has to be a charge at the end, absurd as it may seem.  Without a charge, there’s no explanation for what came before it.

  8. John Neff

    The police on the committee I was on would say there would be probable cause for an arrest but the school officials did not what the child arrested. The police view was if you don’t want the child arrested don’t call the police. The assistant county attorney on the committee would complain that in some case there was no probable cause and she would take a lot of flack when she dismissed the charge. My take was the police had the authority to remove the child from the school and the school officials did not. If the ACA has to take flack so be it.

  9. SHG

    Frankly, the cop makes a good point. If the school admin doesn’t want the cop to do what cops do, then don’t call a cop. If the problem should have been dealt with at a level below arrest, then the school admin should have done so.  The ACA only cleans up the mess. At least someone seems to exercise relatively reasonable discretion.

  10. Leslie Packer

    There are so many factors involved here, Scott. Regular education personnel often don’t have the training they need – or the supports – to handle challenging students. In this case, was a special ed. teacher also in the classroom? Did the student have a paraprofessional there who could have taken him for a walk? Was the teacher following the IEP and behavior intervention plan to prevent melt-downs?

    A few years ago, the House passed a bill to restrict the use of restraint and seclusion. It never came up for a vote in the Senate, yet the use of restraint and seclusion (time-out rooms) often triggers more severe problems than the original problematic behavior.

    As a psychologist treating these kids and who also works as a consultant to school districts, I am horrified that too many times, schools use police to handle what they could probably handle much more effectively by working in collaboration with the student’s parents and treatment team. But having worked in schools, I also know that all too often, the teachers simply aren’t given the supports they need. And the first place communities look to save money is in special education budgets.

    Sorry for the mini-rant, but you’ve touched on one of my hot-button issues.

  11. SHG

    You are right, of course, and this is what they must be accountable for. That’s the point. Regular ed or special, teacher or admin, it remains their duty to both follow the IEP, including the BIP, as well as be responsible ultimately for the proper handling of their students.

    If they’re not trained properly, train them. If they touch a student, they must know the IEP. There is nothing routine about dealing with the special needs students, but that’s no excuse to deal with them harshly or harm them. It’s their duty to know how to deal with their students safely and appropriately, special needs or not. Failure on the part of any school is inexcusable.

  12. Leslie Packer

    We agree, and it’s important for the public to understand that an IEP and BIP are neither useful nor effective if the people creating them do not know what they are doing. Most BIPs I’ve seen aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

    When schools had to start including more students with special needs, time-out rooms started proliferating. They are over-used and reduce the development of genuinely effective plans.

    Some of us have argued that 42 USC § 15009 actually prohibits the use of R&S on autistic students, but no regulations were ever promulgated and NYSED allows “time-out rooms” for non-emergency use as long as parents are notified that it is part of their child’s plan.

    We have a lot of work to do to make the schools safe for kids with special needs. Thanks for pointing out these travesties on your blog.

  13. red5

    There’s no good option here. A violent, special needs 9 year old could be very dangerous for the teacher, who doesn’t deserve a black eye either. Putting teachers on the frontline of uncontrollable kids is no solution.

    Now, I would think a police officer would have been able to handle a violent 9 year old better than this, and that’s the better question.

  14. SHG

    I get the sense you’re a teacher. Your premise is flawed. A special needs 9-year-old should have a BIP to address his outbursts. If not, that’s the first failure. If he does, the teacher is responsible for knowing it and executing it. To blow it off by conveniently throwing in the word “violent” doesn’t absolve the teacher. Next come the efficacy of the BIP. It’s always fascinating how teachers are “educational professionals” until it’s time to put them to the test, and then they suddenly become completely incapable of doing their jobs, like developing an effective IEP and BIP, or resorting to the easiest and worst remedy for a problem. Next couple of failures.

    And then, after they’ve managed to create, or fail to prevent, a bad situation, their safety comes before the child? So it becomes the cop’s fault, because nothing is ever a teacher’s fault.

  15. Bruce Coulson

    Because there isn’t a story at that point. Police arrive, see that there isn’t a real crime in progress, tell the school officials ‘This is your job; start handling it and call us if there’s a REAL crime taking place’, and leave. No story. So, we never hear about it.

  16. Dismoun

    There are a few other articles dealing with this incident, easily googled. There are several versions of this article, posted on several minor news webpages. The one quoted above uses what appears to be unjustified expressive language, which makes the events appear to be particularly horrific. It also speculates wildly without foundation about the child’s state of mind. The majority of the description of the actual events comes from the mother, and is at best, second hand information of dubious truthfullness. One of the longer articles quotes the mother as saying that the boy was fingerprinted and photographed and booked for aggravated battery. A later quote from the police chief said that he was not printed or photographed with the mug shot camera, and was held long enough to process paperwork for the probation department and release him to his mother. You can claim that the quote from the chief is selfserving and unbelievable, but I don’t see why any police force would bother fingerprinting or taking a mug-shot on a 9 year old. Unless American justice actually allows you to charge someone that young, you’d just be wasting your time, and I can imagine that taking prints from a terrified autistic child would be a very fruitful endeavour.

    But what would the wise readers (and host) of this blog suggest that the police actually should DO in an instance like this? It appears that the black eye suffered by the child was not the result of him ‘assaulting the officer’s fist with his face’, as we see too often in other posts here. According to the child’s own mother, it was suffered when the officer either “ripped the child from the wall by his limbs like a ragdoll” or “pulled the boy by his arms and legs, causing him to hit his eye on the divider” (depending on which article you read). Subsequently, the child kicked the officer in the face (this is not mentioned in the article SHG quoted from) and was taken to the floor and cuffed.

    How else DO you get a kid off of a wall? Where would you suggest pulling? I’m not saying that calling the police was an appropriate call here, but what would you have them do in a situation where an unreasoning child is attempting to flee from a school? How would you ask them to react to being kicked in the face?

  17. SHG

    There were a thousand options in the handling of the child that didn’t involve harming him. Waiting is often a solution. Calming down the situation rather than escalating stress is often a solution. Harming a 9-year-old is not.

    You ask about the child kicking the cop, which occurred after the cop slammed him into a wall. Had the cop not slammed him into a wall, would the child have kicked the cop? You ask what the options the cop had then. The option was not engaging in violent action against a child in the first place.

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