Exclusive: ACLU To Release Report Critical of Handcuffing In Kent Schools
In 2004 the Kent School District came under fire when the Seattle King County NAACP took issue with the District’s practice to allow security guards to handcuff students. Complaints at the time showed a disproportionate number of Black students were targeted by security guards and handcuffed for what the NAACP determined was mostly minor, non-violent behavior.
Six years later, with District security still using handcuffs on students, the Washington State arm of the ACLU is taking up the issue in a forthcoming report.
The NAACP filed a multi-million dollar claim for damages in 2004 against the district on behalf of the families of three female students who said the girls’ civil rights were violated and they were physically “violated and humiliated with undue use of force, handcuffing and physical and mental abuse.”
“Clearly we’re appalled.” said NAACP President Carl Mack in 2004. When you start handcuffing children and throwing them up against lockers you’ve reached an all-new low with us.”
The claim was denied by the District’s insurance company, and a civil lawsuit was later dismissed.
As then Superintendent Barbara Grohe and Mack battled over the airwaves- the School District refused to call for an all out end to handcuffing students and the practice continued.
The Kent School District insisted at the time the NAACP claim “that excessive force was used is simply untrue,” via spokeswoman Becky Hanks. “Security officers are taught to address situations as they arise,” she said. “It’s not about race or gender. It’s about the safety of the students.”
Nevertheless, in 2004 the District ordered its own review of the handcuffing policies and practices, to be conducted by a independent panel made up of individuals appointed by the District.
The findings of the panel were clear: stop handcuffing students.
Additionally, the panel told the school board that it appeared the district’s security officers performed as if they were law enforcement instead of acting like security officers keeping students and staff safe.
Under review were more than two dozen security reports of discipline by security officers where handcuffs were used to restrain youths. The panel, which did not include any administrators or district employees, recommended guards should immediately halt the use of handcuffs and advised schools to call in the police if restraints are needed to address a physical threat.
In total, the panel recommended more than 50 changes to district policy, and called for “a reorientation of the security culture in the Kent School District.”
However, in a letter accompanying the final report, Grohe questioned the recommendations, asking what potentially could happen if security officers were left waiting for police to arrive and raised the hot button issue of Columbine.
Ultimately the School Board disregarded the recommendations by the panel and reaffirmed its use of handcuffs by security guards in an August 2004 Board meeting.
“Our bottom line is to provide a safe, secure learning environment and working environment for all of our students and all of our staff,” board member Sandy Collins said before the unanimous vote in favor of the practice.
According to the Kent School District, prior to the 2008/09 school year, no policy was in place to specifically address use of force issues in general or specific to handcuffs, particularly since the District did not define handcuffing as use of force. Prior to 2008 security officers followed guidelines from their department manual which outlined acceptable responses to everything from search and seizure to use of force.
From the Kent School District:
In 2008, Kent School District participated in the Washington State Use Of Force Task Force which addressed the need for district policies relative to use of force. Funded by the state legislature,this effort was coordinated by the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) and was under the charge of the state legislature. After the task force completed its work, KSD Board of Directors adopted Policy 3246 and 3246 procedures which are patterned after the WSSDA model policies.
Policy 3246 says, in part:
Physical force is reasonable when needed to prevent or minimize imminent bodily injury to self or others. If de-escalation interventions have failed or are inappropriate, reasonable physical force may be used to protect district property.
Mechanical restraint or chemical spray is reasonable only when used by authorized and trained district staff after de-escalation interventions have failed or are inappropriate a) if the student’s behavior poses a threat of imminent bodily injury to self or others or b) to prevent significant property damage.
It goes on to say “physical force, mechanical restraints, chemical spray or less than lethal devices will not be used as a form of discipline or punishment,” one of the original concerns raised by students, families and the NAACP in 2004.
“Kent School District has implemented a school safety services model which focuses on healthy, safe, and nurturing learning environments for students and staff,” said Hanks of the District’s new policy adopted in 2009. “As part of this, the safety services officers engage in continual training ranging from cultural competency skills to building successful and nurturing learning environment to verbal de-escalation skills and alternatives to the use of force and handcuffing. While handcuffing incidents are very rare, each is scrutinized and reviewed for reasonableness and to determine if any other alternatives could have been used.”
Given the changes the District says it has made, not much is known about the details of the pending ACLU report, or if any of the previous concerns highlighted in 2004 play a role. Communications Director Doug Honig would only confirm the ACLU of Washington State is in the process of completing a report on the Kent School District’s handcuffing of students- no release date for the report was given; sources say it will be sooner rather than later.
Its mere existence could spell headaches for Kent’s relatively new Superintendent Dr. Edward Vargas, who started the current school year in a two week stand off with striking teachers and frustrated families.