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Exclusive: ACLU To Release Report Critical of Handcuffing In Kent Schools

March 2, 2010

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.

Background:

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.

Today

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.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. M ------ permalink
    March 2, 2010 6:20 pm

    WOW -It should never be ok to use physical force, let alone handcuffing students. Is Kent School District the only school that does this in Washington State?
    It's crazy how it can be justified to use physical force in our education system but not on our public transportation – I know it's two different stories, however this is what came to mind since we are speaking about troubled kids.
    I was once myself, a trouble youth…and to be honest with you…physical force only escalates the situation at hand. If you really want kids to listen, understand or simply follow the rules, we need to learn how to effectively communicate with them, how to effectively listen to their needs.
    At the end of the day, one must ask themselves; What is it exactly that I am trying to instill or teach this child/young adult?

  2. March 2, 2010 8:18 pm

    I'm just shocked that not only can they handcuff kids, they can use mace. I can only see certain very rare circumstances where physical intervention would be necessary, I question whether the school security guards have the proper training to diagnose and intervene properly in those situations.

  3. Devil's Advocate permalink
    March 3, 2010 7:37 am

    The article is a little vague regarding what lines have been crossed.

    Children are just as capable of violence and crime as adults. I think schools should be allowed to use force, especially since we are asking them to also serve as baby-sitters for kids with serious behavioral problems. The real issue is whether the guards have been properly trained to diffuse situations and use the minimal force necessary, and whether cuffs are being used as punishment.

  4. AfroPuff permalink
    March 3, 2010 8:15 am

    I have to disagree. The initial problem with the policy- or lack there of- was that it was used against one group of people disproportionately, and it was used as a punishment for behaviors that were not violent. That is clearly stated.

    I think anyone would agree that it is also a problem that the district didn't have an actual policy until last school year- for something so controversial you'd think they'd jump on the ball to protect their own butts.

    As for what's in the ACLU report- I really can't wait to read it. The SD is taking the position that they've done their homework and things are better. So why a report then? Is it favorable? Does the ACLU even do that? I thought they only took up "issues"? Like I said- really curious to read it. That the organization won't even get into it says, at least to me, there may be something there.

  5. M------- permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:08 pm

    How can we teach to non-violence with violence….

  6. Safe Schools permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:53 pm

    To everyone who is automatically assuming you should never use force or hand cuff a student is not living in the real world!! Violence is in every school and security/police that work in schools are generally trained to deal with situations that happen. Do you read the paper!! Shootings, stabbings, assaults, etc… these are all every day things that happen in American schools and world wide. dont judge. in fact, you should make an appointment to come down to a kent school and job shadow security. then maybe you can talk!!

  7. Safe Schools My Ass permalink
    March 3, 2010 10:02 pm

    School security guards are general assholes. In kent, they are assholes on steriods. I'm tired of people blaming the youth. Try shadowing a kid for a day and see how they get rail roaded at every turn and have no rights. If an adult says a kid is bad, the rest of the adults treat that kid accordingly. It's systemic oppresion man, pay attention! Guards in kent perpetuated negative relationships with kids and they routinely esclelated situations when they were supposed to do the opposite. Then they slapped handcuffs on kids after stoking the fire and creating situations. Not to mention the arrogance on behalf of the district.
    I just wish some of you would stop BS'ing and justifying or rationalizing these guards behavior under the general umbrella of "you never know". That's not justification enough for what security guards in kent do to kids. It never will be.

  8. Safe Schools permalink
    March 4, 2010 4:40 pm

    I agree some of these points are valid and take place in all schools. To automatically assume all security are aholes is just confriming your closed minded ideology or iditology in todays world! Speaking for Kent and all other school security/police staff, some of use also have a genuine heart to help america's youth. At the same time, we also have to act in situations that present a danger to the school, staff, students and public. Uneducated people about security automatically assume they are rude, disrespectful and unjust or can do nothing. Thats wrong! We are here in the school system to provide a safe and secure learning enviornment for all. Even the defiant or troubled ones that dont have the parental support system. Judgement is passed on none and equality is giving to all!

  9. Schools permalink
    March 5, 2010 9:41 pm

    So if a student was beating another student, maybe your own kid, you wouldnt want someone to step in? When that person does step in, they have to control the scene and make it safe for everyone!

  10. Safe Schools permalink
    March 5, 2010 9:46 pm

    OC pepper spray is used not mace. When you handcuff a person, you are handcuffing them for the safety of themselves or others. If you have to use physical intervention, would you want someone wrestling with the student, use force or simply detaining them?? Handcuffs control and secure the person. They are not a use of force nor do they cause injury. You guys have to get over this handcuffing crap! Stop worrying about those protecting and maintaining a safe learning enviornment for our children!!

  11. M------- permalink
    March 10, 2010 7:36 pm

    Of course I would want them to step up and step in – That has nothing to do with HANDCUFFING a CHILD

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