New York City Schools Handcuff and Haul Away Kids in Mental Crisis — Even 5-Year-Olds

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by ProPublica, Childrens Health Defense:

An investigation by THE CITY and ProPublica found that New York City schools continue to call on safety agents and other police officers to manage students in distress and unless a parent arrives in time to intercede, cops hand kids off to EMTs, who take students to hospital emergency rooms for psychiatric evaluations.

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By Abigail Kramer

It was almost time for school pickup when Paul’s mom saw the text on the classroom messaging app: Paul — her 7-year-old — “ended up running out of class today and it escalated rather quickly.”

Someone at the school had called 911. Paul’s parents could contact the main office for more information, the message read.

Paul’s mom remembers the physical feeling of dread, like ice under her skin.

Paul — that’s his middle name — has a neurological disorder. He loves to cuddle with his mom and help take care of his baby sister, and he’s wild about Greek mythology.

Like a lot of kids with developmental disabilities, he also has very big tantrums, hitting, spitting and throwing things when he gets upset. Since the end of first grade, he’s been in a special public school classroom in Brooklyn that integrates disabled and nondisabled kids.

The day of the message, in early December, Paul’s mom was so panicked that she couldn’t fully make sense of what it said.

Why had the school called 911 instead of calling her? Was her child hurt? Had something gone terribly wrong?

She wanted to run the last few blocks to the school, but her legs felt frozen. It was hard just to walk.

When she made it into the school building, she found Paul lying facedown on the floor of a computer room, his whole body heaving with sobs. She touched his back, and he screamed and tried to scramble away.

Then he recognized his mother’s voice and jumped into her arms. “Mommy, don’t let them handcuff me,” he begged.

“I said, ‘What are you talking about? No one is going to handcuff you.’”

But that’s when she found out: Someone already had.

That afternoon, Paul had a meltdown that started in his classroom and spilled into a hallway. When he didn’t calm down, someone called a school safety agent — an officer of the New York Police Department (NYPD) who is stationed full-time in the building.

Paul knocked off the agent’s face mask and glasses, and that’s when it happened. The agent pulled out a pair of Velcro restraints and forced them over Paul’s hands.

Looking now, Paul’s mom could see red marks where the handcuffs had rubbed Paul’s wrists raw. But she felt more bewildered than ever.

She must be misunderstanding, she thought. Who would handcuff a 7-year-old?

New York City officials have promised for years to stop relying on police to respond to students in emotional crisis.

Under the terms of a 2014 legal settlement, schools are only supposed to call 911 in the most extreme situations, when kids pose an “imminent and substantial risk of serious injury” to themselves or others.

And yet an investigation by THE CITY and ProPublica found that city schools continue to call on safety agents and other police officers to manage students in distress thousands of times each year — incidents the NYPD calls “child in crisis” interventions.

Unless a parent arrives in time to intercede, cops hand kids off to EMTs, who take students to hospital emergency rooms (ER) for psychiatric evaluations.

In close to 1,370 incidents since 2017, students ended up in handcuffs while they waited for an ambulance to arrive, according to NYPD data. In several incidents, those kids were 5 or 6 years old.

Schools called the police on students in emotional distress thousands of times

Note: 2017 is the first year that the New York Police Department released data on all incidents where a school employee called 911 over a student in emotional distress, known as child-in-crisis incidents. Data Source: NYPD quarterly School Safety Act report. Credit: Lucas Waldron, ProPublica

Ten years ago, in the runup to the 2014 settlement, a group of parents sued the city’s Department of Education, claiming that schools violated their children’s constitutional rights and broke federal law by sending them to hospitals when they weren’t experiencing medical emergencies — in many cases in response to behavior that resulted directly from a student’s disability.

The experience was traumatic and humiliating for the kids, the plaintiffs claimed.

Students were terrified to return to school; 6- and 7-year-olds thought they were being arrested. Two schools filed child welfare reports on parents who didn’t allow EMTs to put their children in ambulances.

Meanwhile, the hospital visits served no useful purpose, plaintiffs claimed.

Students missed crucial class time only to wait for hours in the ER — sometimes with seriously mentally ill adults — and then be sent home.

Read More @ ChildrensHealthDefense.org