Many of you will remember the Morning Zen piece we did on Bill Lichtenstein, parent of a beautiful daughter who experienced the horror of the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint ("His name is Bill - and he is fighting against seclusion and restraint"). After Bill wrote an article about his experience for the New York Times and we featured the story on the CMHNetwork website, he was, and continues to be, flooded with emails from parents who have had similar experiences. In talking with Bill I shared with him the dilemma parents face about speaking out for fear of reprisal from school boards - much like what happened to him when the Times article hit the streets. As the stories of heartache continued to mount, Bill called me and said, "We've got to do something to help these kids and parents."
So we will. And so must you. We are working on several ideas for how the Network can support safe forums for parents to share their stories as well as opportunities to facilitate constructive dialogue among parents, teachers, administrators and mental health professionals about how to best address this complicated issue. As a first step, thanks to the initiative of Bill Lichtenstein, we are encouraging you to sign this White House petition asking President Obama to support the Keep All Students Safe Act. We need 25,000 signatures by February 11, 2013 to receive a formal White House response. Go to http://BIT.LY/kidspetition to sign the petition. Then post a link to this message on your Facebook page (or whatever social media platform you may use) and share this message with your friends and colleagues.
This is a no-brainer folks, whether you are a parent, young adult who has experienced the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint, teacher, therapist, administrator or concerned community member - sign the petition so that we can get the attention of the White House on this important issue. Oh, and by the way - it takes approximately one minute to sign the petition online. One minute out of the 1,440 minutes you will spend today breathin', thinkin' and caring about kids and families. Yep, I think you could probably spare a minute to do this simple, yet powerful act. Make a difference.
- Sign the petition here. A note to all of our government friends - You are first and foremost a citizen of the United States. If your organization does not permit you to sign petitions, do it on your home computer. You are a citizen of this great country and it is your right to have your voice heard.
- Sign the petition here.
One more thing - if you need further convincing, read the long list of parent testimony, news reports from across the nation, and congressional efforts to address seclusion and restraint below.
Why should you do this? Here are just a few examples of notes we've gotten from parents:
- A concerned parent describes a call she received from another local parent:
"His 7yr old son," she wrote,"is being restrained (coming home with bruises and a black eye) and reports to being in the seclusion room for the entire day. I talked to this very smart young man. He told me he wanted to die.. . . I cried when I heard from them today."
- From another parent...
I pulled my daughter out of [school] this week. Today was her last day. The principal went from overly accommodating (we had a come-to-Jesus talk a few weeks ago, at which time she apologized on behalf of [the school]). The parents stepped way back, as if I had a contagious disease. And the kindergarten teacher acted as if I were doing something terrible to my daughter, her classmates, and, I think, her (the teacher). It was a very solitary experience. I know I'm doing the right thing while simultaneously wondering, "Am I doing the right thing...?" Was it like this for you too? Did you feel empty and angry and relieved and certain and unsure and terribly sad all at the same time? My daughter is sound asleep on my chest, still wearing her school clothes. She tried not to cry when the teacher and principal hugged her goodbye. Thanks for listening. I don't know who else would understand. My friends thought I was ridiculous to even think about taking her out of a "blue ribbon school."
- A note to Bill Lichtenstein in reaction to his story in Morning Zen...
First-- I'm genuinely sorry for your and your daughter's experiences with LPS. Second-- the situation you have described is not confined to students in special education programs.
My daughter is currently in Kindergarten at [elementary school]. Her needs are related to a trauma history resulting from time spent in an orphanage. The teacher, guidance counselor, principal-- and even the superintendent have ignored my repeated requests to discuss her needs (which only require simple modifications of some of the teacher's actions).
I've been labeled the Problem Parent and have been rewarded with silence-- completely ostracized by the teacher, principal, guidance counselor and superintendent. On November 6th, Dr. [...] promised in an email to respond to my request for a phone conversation or meeting. I haven't heard from him yet.
My daughter is vomiting, begging not to go to school (She LOVED preschool and Pre-K at [name of school omitted]. As a single mom, I cannot afford independent school (although we are applying anyway). It's illegal to keep her out of school (she's six-years-old), but how do I send a child into a classroom where she is clearly traumatized by the teacher's behavior?
There's a lot more to the climate of [...] Public Schools-- most of it revolving around the staunch need to protect its reputation as a top school. Any hint of unhappiness or even the most constructive criticism is meet with annoyance; it's curtly dismissed, and the parent is ostracized. In child development language (I'm a developmental psychopathologist) we call this kind of control (used by some parents) "love withdrawal technique." It's effective in the immediate sense, in that the so-called wrongdoer will do almost anything to be included again-- to be out of isolation. More importantly, he/she learns never to commit that wrongdoing again. There's a covert rule at [Name of school omitted] against doing or saying anything critical, regardless if how constructive or polite you may be.
- Another note from a parent...
"... Some in the community think our treatment by the school was a warning of what would happen to anyone who "tells"—a way to sort of tamp down more victims of potential sexual or other abuse from coming forward. I don’t know if it’s having the desired effect though since more people are coming out with accounts even aside from the sexual abuse scandals. Someone joked that [name of city withheld] is a "Stephen King town" or "Chinatown," but again I'm not sure we’re so special or that the situations are that unusual. It may just be the confluence of events that got people swapping accounts when they finally realized that staying silent was feeding the monster and they and their children weren't any safer. Someone else compared the district to a Skinner box in which the "shocks" only get worse when the dog lays down and plays dead."
- Another note from a parent...
In this story on CBS, a teacher was found to have abused a student and allowed to continue working at the school. This situation wasn't addressed until it led to more abuse and eventually a death. Sound familiar? It does to me. In 2009 my three year old was abused by a student support instructor at [name of school omitted] and then the school took the teacher back after she was found guilty by [social services] for neglect for pulling his hair and other mistreatment. She was allowed to continue to work with children. I wonder if that teacher works with children today in [name of city withheld]? If not, how long did she work with kids after she was found negligent? I hope the school board addresses this, along with all the other allegations of seclusion that have come forward recently. Watch the CBS news story here.
A note from another parent leading a petition effort in Ohio...
I'm writing to you today because I need your help to draw attention to an important issue children are facing. Ohio has greatly misused seclusion rooms, secluding special needs children for reasons such as "not wanting to work" or "calling the teacher mean." Ohio public schools are putting students in danger, and they don't plan to ban the practice. We created a petition, demanding the leadership in the Ohio Department of Education ban the use of seclusion rooms. They won't do anything until the public demands it. If we all come together, we can demand change. Will you please sign the petition, and forward it along to your supporters? Petition link is here.
Just a few articles on the misuse of seclusion and restraint...
- Consider this...
- Kids across the country go to school each day only to be abused by being physically restrained and locked in seclusion rooms. These children return home bruised and traumatized, and in some cases wanting to die. Still others, like Corey Foster in Yonkers, NY, whom Bill Lichtenstein wrote about in his New York Times article, have ended up dead while being restrained. And an increasing number of kids are being routed from schools into the juvenile justice system rather than use best practice positive behavioral interventions in the classroom that have been shown to work.
- Videos worth watching to gain further perspective:
- Representative George Miller (D-CA) powerful and emotional appeal on the floor of the US House to support the "Keep All Students Safe Act." This is a must see video.
- Middletown CT School's 'Scream Room'
- 4th grade boy stuffed in a duffle bag
This is the TV news report on Sandra Baker, the Mercer County, KY, mom, who found her 4th grade son stuffed in a tied-up duffle bag outside his classroom. I interviewed Sandra, and wrote about her case in my Sunday New York Times article, "A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children." (See: www.TerrifyingDiscipline.com) It's the case about which Emily Rooney, on her "Beat the Press" show, cited and referred to as "some kid in Kentucky being rolled up in a duffle bag, and left in the hallway" and said that she had "questioned if that were true..." SEE VIDEO: http://www.wlky.com/School-Board-Defends-Duffel-Bag-Incident-Response/-/9366718/10025134/-/x9cfr0/-/index.html
- "America's Forgotten Children" Restraint & Seclusion Awareness Video (Content Warning - This video may be inappropriate for some users. You will need to sign in to YouTube to verify your age.) Watch it here.
- ABC News Report on Isolation Rooms in Schools, on Good Morning America, World News Tonight and Nightline: Watch it here.
- See NBC News/Ohio report at: http://www2.nbc4i.com/news/2012/oct/24/thursday-6-pm-nbc4-takes-you-inside-seclusion-room-ar-1216349/
- Open air room or padded cell? Seclusion rooms expose Arizona's lack of regulations
Channel 3, Glendale, AZ reports on a lawsuit by parents in response to this tiny space (5' x 6'), without windows, which is called an "open air room" by the school district in Glendale, AZ. The report says: "Leslie Noyes described what she saw while video taping the room with her cell phone. "The walls were padded, the door was padded, there was a little peephole like in your door that you can't really see through. I saw my son laying there on the floor unresponsive." Watch the video here.
- NPR's "Tell More More," with Michel Martin, interviews Bill Lichtenstein about his New York Times expose: "A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children." Listen here (audio and transcript only).
- For a full compendium of video resources on seclusion and restraint compiled by parents, visit TerrifyingDiscipline.com
The courts are getting involved...
Right now in the federal court case of Connor v. [Gov. Duval] Patrick, the state of Massachusetts is on trial in a class action suit that alleges that kids in MA in state care are among the most neglected and abused in the country. The suit, brought by the New York-based Children's Rights, alleges that Mass. continues to stand apart from the rest of the country with regard to reported mistreatment and neglect of children, and to how such abuse is responded. While recent reported cases of restraints, seclusion rooms, and the neglect and abuse of kids in schools in other states have generated government, community and media concern, in Mass, as seen in the case of the notorious Judge Rotenberg Center, the response is more often than not to ignore and deny, and even to retaliate against parents. There is no explanation for the prevalence of child abuse and neglect in Mass., which takes place in the shadows of such nationally recognized institutions overflowing with child care experts as Harvard and Boston Children's Hospital, except for the economic incentives in a system that puts money in pockets of those in a system that all admit is chronically broken. The trial of Connor v. Patrick began Jan. 21, 2013 in the United States District Court for Western Massachusetts. (See: http://www.childrensrights.org/reform-campaigns/legal-cases/massachusetts/)
This is a no-brainer folks, whether you are a parent, young adult who has experienced the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint, teacher, therapist, administrator or concerned community member - sign the petition so that we can get the attention of the White House this important issue deserves.
- Sign the petition here. A note to all of our government friends - You are first and foremost a citizen of the United States. If your organization does not permit you to sign petitions, do it on your home computer. You are a citizen of this great country and your voice is needed.
- Sign the petition here.