What Happens to Special Needs Kids in School

Parents aren’t informed how special needs children get treated in school.

school bus driver

When discussing public school as opposed to private school or homeschooling, the subject of special needs children is typically brought up as a reason we need public school (I can’t bring myself to write “public education). Parents aren’t equipped to handle some children with special needs.

[See also, “‘Put Your Fourteen-Year-Old into the Care of Pedophiles?’ Now a Relevant Question for U.S. Citizens.”]

It sounds good in theory, but the reality is quite different. A. Barton Hinkle writes at Reason.com about, “How Public School Administrators Endanger Special Needs Kids.”

If a parent in Virginia repeatedly locked a 7-year-old child in a closet, child-protective social service agencies would come down on him like a ton of bricks. But if a school administrator does the same thing, he has a green light to keep it up.

Hypothetical? Not at all. That very thing happened to an autistic student in Powhatan, Virginia. School officials never even bothered to inform the parents about the punishment. Sean Campbell, the boy’s father, learned about it one day when his son began pleading not to send him to school again.

How often do such things happen? Anecdotal horror stories are abundant, but nobody can say for sure because, believe it or not, nobody keeps regular data.

Children’s advocates estimate three-fourths of kids who are locked in seclusion, tied up, duct-taped to their desks, or otherwise physically restrained have some sort of disability. But they don’t know what percentage of children are subjected to seclusion or restraint in a special-education setting and what percentage are subjected to such treatment in the regular school setting. That would seem like a fairly basic thing to know.

Not only are no records kept, but the way these things are “reported” is designed to mislead.

If a teacher hog-ties a difficult student and leaves her lying on her stomach, barely able to breathe, the school does not need to report the incident to the central office or the state. It doesn’t even have to tell the child’s parents. And if it ever does, it might do so using bureaucratic euphemisms, such as saying the child was sent to a “quiet room”—without mentioning the quiet room is a bare concrete cell or a converted broom closet.

Treatment like that would be hard on any grade-schooler, but many of those who receive it suffer from autism, developmental disabilities or emotional problems that can make such experiences traumatic. As parent Marie Tucker told lawmakers during a hearing, “My exuberant, confident 5-year-old, who was so excited to start school, began begging not to go and telling me he was the worst, most baddest kid ever, who would rather go to jail or die than go back to school another day.”

Well, at least he learned that school is bad. To that extent, we can say that he really received an education.