Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Special-Needs Children Abused In Government Schools

This is shockingly sad and a reason why we have seen so many special needs families inquiring about, and coming to, homeschooling.

The report by CNN news says this:
Congressional auditors have uncovered widespread abuse of techniques use to restrain or discipline special-education students in U.S. schools, with some deaths linked to the practices, a top congressman says.

The findings are among those expected from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report scheduled to be released Tuesday. The report documented serious problems with the way children with disabilities are being treated in public schools, including cases of children being held face-down on the ground.

The GAO report was prepared for the House Education and Labor Committee, which is considering new laws governing what actions teachers can take to rein in disruptive special-needs students.

"I think what we're going to hear from the GAO is that very often, special-need children are subjected to the policies of seclusion and policies of restraint that have turned out to be lethal in a number of circumstances," said Rep. George Miller, D-California, the committee's chairman.

In other cases, children as young as 6 have been locked away "for hours at a time," Miller said.

"What the GAO is telling us is that that policy is fairly widespread," he said. "The state regulations about how to handle these incidents don't exist in about half the states, and in other states you have kind of a patchwork of regulations."

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found that state laws governing the treatment of the more than 6 million children classified as having "special needs" -- conditions including autism and Down syndrome -- are patchy at best. Teachers and school staff frequently lack training in correct restraint methods, and in some cases, where improper restraints led to injuries, teachers often kept their jobs.

Only five states keep track of incidents where special-needs students are separated or restrained. Parents contacted by CNN commonly said they were not told their child was being disciplined until he or she began to behave badly at home -- a sign of trouble at school.

When confronted with complaints, school systems sometimes sought to minimize or deny the allegations, even after public investigations found the charges to be true. And parents told CNN that when they got into a dispute with the teacher, their child was made to suffer as retribution.

Some of the most disturbing reports concerned the use of seclusion rooms. Experts have long recommended that children should only be isolated when they posed an immediate threat to themselves or others. But CNN found that isolation was often used as a punishment by teachers to compel the students to follow instructions.

State investigators in Utah found a teacher left 7-year-old Garrett Peck in an isolation cubicle for at least two and a half hours after the teacher said he told her to "shut up."

While the boy was in the cubicle, the teacher taunted him by playing his favorite video and telling him what he was missing. His parents, Joshua and Becca Peck, said the child has an attention span of about 10 minutes, and they believe that after the first few minutes, he had no idea why he was in the cubicle.

"It was so sad. We felt it was a form of torture for him but he, being autistic, he had no way to express it," Joshua Peck said. "He couldn't tell."

And Becca Peck said her son had been left in the cubicle with nothing but a magic marker -- which he used to scrawl all over himself. When she came to school to pick him up, "He was covered in marker -- on his eyelids, on his hair, face, clothes, arms, eyelids -- everywhere."

"I started thinking, 'What was he thinking?' Was he thinking, 'Why is my mom letting this person do this to me? Why am I here? I trust no one now.' "

In Garrett's case, like others cited by the GAO, the teacher remains on the job. And what frustrates experts is that efforts to force unruly children to comply don't actually work.

Homeschool leaders in my own state of CT have heard these kinds of stories as well. Parents try to get services for their children, but often times the schools are just ill-equipped, or simply do not have the teaching staff with the skills to handle special needs children, especially when they have so many other children to teach. While there may be students who are doing well and school systems that have good special ed programs, there are still far too many kids that fall through the cracks, or who are either neglected or, even as we read from this report, abused. The abuse issue though, just should not be tolerated by anyone.

Some families of special needs children simply do not want their children warehoused, or mistreated in any way, and so they take it, some would say courageously, upon themselves to homeschool their children. Surprisingly, school systems fight that decision and end up claiming that these parents are neglectful, and before you know it the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is called into the picture.

Why do school systems fight parents with special needs children who wish to homeschool? Some speculate that it is all because of the funding schools receive for these children; in fact we have known school systems that have kept special needs childrens' names on the enrollment in order to collect the funding, even though the children have been dis-enrolled. These schools are never called to task for this fraud either! Other school districts insist that what they are doing for these children is far superior than what a parent could ever provide. Of course we have also heard of instances where the child was removed from the school and has learned to do much more than the school had ever planned for them through Individual Education Plans (IEP's) and PPT's. In the end, parents just want what is in the best interest of their children, and if the schools ignore their concerns, etc., it just makes for a more difficult situation.

Parents of Special Needs children should not be intimidated. There are many special needs children that are currently being homeschooled, and although I have not seen documented numbers, there is a lot of anecdotal information circulating. The fact is that through the years we have been hearing from more and more special needs families looking for alternatives.

Homeschoolers have lots and lots of special needs resources to draw upon.
CT Homeschool Network has provided a good list on their web site.

There are others here at About.com, as does Homeschool Central and there are so many more that can be found with Google.

Here is an interesting graph citing reasons why people homeschool.

(H/T Tracy SM)