Elementary School Kids Don’t Belong in Handcuffs

Chrystal McCadden thought she had done everything necessary to ensure an appropriate, safe educational environment for Cameron, her 7-year-old son who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In addition to obtaining appropriate professional services for her son, she also worked with the school district in Flint, Michigan, to develop an individualized education plan, or IEP. Over the course of 13 months, she also met repeatedly with the administrators of an after-school program run by the local chamber of commerce to discuss Cameron’s condition, needs, and strategies for addressing his disability-related challenges. 

Nevertheless, on Oct. 12, 2015, when Cameron allegedly ran across bleachers and kicked a supply cart — conduct consistent with his disability — the afterschool program declined to follow protocols specified by the child’s IEP. Instead, a police officer was summoned. The officer encountered a little boy who was just shy of four feet tall and who weighed about 55 pounds. Cameron was immediately seized and placed in handcuffs. 

When the afterschool program got around to calling Ms. McCadden, the fact that her son was in cuffs was mentioned almost in passing. She disregarded it, believing that the handcuffs must have been toys, part of Halloween activities or a game. When she arrived and learned to her horror that what was done to her son was no game, she vigorously demanded the removal of the restraints. She was then even more alarmed to learn that Cameron could not be released because the officer did not have the key. Almost a full hour passed before the child was finally released. 

On behalf of Cameron, the ACLU of Michigan, the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, and private cooperating attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Flint Police Department and the Flint Chamber of Commerce. The lawsuit asserts claims for Fourth Amendment and disability law violations. 

In addition to requesting that the court declare Cameron’s handcuffing illegal, order that it never happens again, and award compensation to the McCaddens, the lawsuit and a large coalition of local grassroots community organizations demand the total withdrawal of police officers from Flint’s elementary schools. Against a backdrop of a water crisis that has had a demonstrable physical impact on school children throughout the city, members of the community believe money spent on police in elementary schools would be better spent on professionals who are trained and equipped to deal with the problems of Flint’s children. No one is satisfied with handcuffs as a response. 

Unfortunately, Cameron’s experience was not unique. 

Although students with disabilities are only 12 percent of the national public school student population, they account for 75 percent of students subjected to physical restraint in schools. In addition, while African-American students like Cameron are only 19 percent of students with disabilities, they account for 36 percent of students subjected to mechanical restraints like handcuffs. 

More and more, schools in America are turning mundane disciplinary infractions and behaviors that should be addressed through IEPs or a conversation with a counselor into crimes. With the lawsuit, the McCadden family has said enough is enough. No child deserves to have handcuffs slapped on them, especially when their behavior is an expression of their disability. It’s disturbing that these words even need saying.

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Anonymous

I understand people being angry but if the handcuffs were being used because the boy became completely out of controllable and was in danger of harming himself wouldn't that make a difference. How would you handle it without some restraint.

Anonymous

Sometimes kids do need to be restrained with cuffs. People that do t work in the field have not dealt with some of the kids I deal with.

Anonymous

Such incidents are extremely common...watch for the documentary film The Kids We Lose (www.thekidswelose.com) for the total picture and call to action.

Anonymous

There's no magic pill and students have a right to not be medicated. And if you think it's not also racially motivated your in denial. Look at our prison system. Yes school to prison pipeline is real!!

Anonymous

I too raised a son with ADHD, I sympathize with this mother, Lord knows my son was mistreated and misunderstood by several schools and school personnel. It is a problem that needs to be address with these public educators for their lack of understanding and training and how to educate children with diseases. I believe every educator should be trained and be required to comply with a standard knowledge of how to teach children with these kinds of diseases. My heart goes out to this boy and his family, because it is going to be a struggle. My advice is to always be there for your son, stick up for him, support him and don't give up thats the best thing you can do for him he will grow up to be a good man, mine did.

Anonymous

You call incidents like this mundane but having witnessed a child running amok like this in an after school program it is terrifying for the other children and some of the staff. Bear in mind the after school caters have limited experience and paid accordingly. Luckily for all the lady in charge WAS a ver

Anonymous

You call incidents like this mundane but having witnessed a child running amok like this in an after school program it is terrifying for the other children and some of the staff. Bear in mind the after school caters have limited experience and paid accordingly. Luckily for all the lady in charge WAS a very experienced former teacher and handled it well and did not call the cops but when I picked my daughter up she was scared as were the other kids. I wish the feelings and emotions of others were not so completely disregarded by people/caters/parents of kids with disabilities. It’s hard for young children to understand and if they themselves are hurt in the process ( which my daughter has been in a separate incident and the parents did nothing, using the child’s disability as an excuse for his behavior) what are their rights? What are the rights of parents who pay to send their kids to this afterschool program and for them to come home scared? What are the rights of minimum wage workers who had to restrain this child and clean up an appalling mess he made? I don’t agree with the child being put in handcuffs but I don’t see you offering a plan here as to how incidents like this should be dealt with and the priority of the carers was probably to protect the other children.

Anonymous

Would have been funny if the kid kicked the cops ass

Anonymous

We didn't have these problems when I went to school. Up to and including high school, teacher's had paddles...and were not afraid to use them. No lawsuits were filed, and as a student, I damned sure was hesitant to step out of line. These analyst created disorders were present then too, but didn't give a student a free pass to misbehave.

Merman

Many of Flint's children have ADHD, Opposition Defience Disorder, and other anti-social behaviors precisely because the Michigan state government controlling Flint's water system let them down and making and them covering up decisions that deliberately exposed Flint's children's brains to permanent lead poisoning. Now these same children - instead of receiving the special education services required by federal law (IDEA) from Michigan State and local governments, they are being treated like criminals for the behaviors that result from the same life-long brain damage they were exposed to as a result of other government employees who failed their jobs to serve and protect their citizens.

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