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Rapid City, SD: Settlement reached in restrain use with autistic child

Sept 16, 2023, Rapid City (SD) Journal: Settlement pending in RCAS lawsuit for allegedly restraining and secluding autistic child
A federal judge must independently approve a proposed settlement before he'll dismiss a court case against the Rapid City Area School District for allegedly using physical force to restrain an autistic child, as well as seclude him in the corner of an elementary school classroom called "Hawaii," according to court documents.
In February 2022, the parents of the child who attended Knollwood Elementary School in Rapid City filed a civil suit against various Knollwood Elementary staff, the Rapid City Area School District, the Rapid City School Board and the South Dakota Department of Education.

The complaint summarized nine different incidents where staff physically restrained and/or secluded the eight-year-old, four-foot-tall, 65-pound boy in a corner of a classroom referred to as "Hawaii." The defendant's response admitted the area existed, but did not admit to any improper treatment of the child.

The photo of the area shows what appears to be cubicle dividers and some sort of padded material creating a makeshift cage.

Above the dividers on the wall were decorative signs that read "aloha," "let's be mermaids," and "relax." A laminated piece of printer paper listed six "Hawaii Guidelines:" "One person at a time." "Quiet." "Do Not Distract Others." "Get Calm." "Return to work." "Make up any missing work."

The area referred to as "Hawaii" where an autistic child was confined at Knollwood Elementary School in 2019, according to a lawsuit against school officials and staff.

On Oct. 4, 2019, the child's father came to the classroom to see his son crying on the floor in the "makeshift animal pen," the complaint described.

"We went into the school to pick him up and they had him in the manmade torture chamber," the father said.

The incident is one of nine the parents claimed happened between Sept. 4, 2019 and Oct. 7, 2019, when the parents pulled him out of the school and began to seek legal recourse.

In one of the alleged incidents, four staff members restrained the child for 22 minutes after he tried to leave the school. In another, he was restrained for 34 minutes after becoming upset and kicking items after he wasn't allowed to have his favorite writing tool.

In yet another, six staff members restrained him and then placed him in "Hawaii" for 20 and 10 minutes, respectively.

The father said neither he nor the boy's mother were told about the incidents, which was a requirement of his behavior intervention plan. The plan did allow for emergency physical interventions as a last resort, but did not allow seclusion, according to the lawsuit….

"We don't want him to have to relive anything," he said. "We don't want him to hear any of the incidences anymore. None of that. We want that as far from his mind as possible."

On August 28, the parents and the defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The bare-bones document simply stated the parents, the school employees, the Rapid City Area School District and the Rapid City School Board agree the case should be dismissed.

The document does not include the South Dakota Department of Education as one of the parties agreeing to the dismissal.

The father confirmed to the Journal they agreed to a settlement. He said they settled for the "average" amount awarded in South Dakota, but would not state an amount. …


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