For more than a decade, parents of children with developmental and psychiatric problems have pushed for their children to gain more access to mainstream schools. One unfortunate side-effect may be an increasing use by schools of precisely the sort of practices families hoped to avoid by steering clear of institutionalized settings: takedowns, isolation rooms, restraining chairs with straps, and worse.
In 2007, the public system served 600,000 more special education students than it did a decade ago. Many staff members are not adequately trained to handle severe behavior problems.
In April of this year, a 9-year-old Montreal boy with autism died of suffocation when a special education teacher wrapped him in a weighted blanket to calm him. Two Michigan public school students with autism have died while being held on the ground in what is known as prone restraint.
Federal law leaves it to states and school districts to decide when physical restraints and seclusion are appropriate, and standards vary widely. Oversight is often nonexistent, despite great potential for harm and little evidence of benefit.
* New York Times July 15, 2008