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RHODE ISLAND: 4 families file charges of unlawful restraint of disabled children

June 24, 2023, WPRI, Rhode Island: RI mother says daughter repeatedly restrained in closet-sized room at school

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Four families have filed federal complaints against West Warwick and North Kingstown public schools, accusing the districts of using restraints that violated their children’s civil rights.

The complaints sent this month to the U.S. Department of Justice alleged four students were unlawfully restrained dozens of times, including Isilda Cabral’s 10-year-old daughter, Sophia, who was regularly held in a closet-sized padded room in West Warwick.

“It was like two to three times a week,” Cabral told Target 12.

Sophia’s situation was detailed in the complaints filed on behalf of the families by the ACLU of Rhode Island. The civil liberties advocacy group is calling on the DOJ to investigate the complaints and mandate the school districts to follow federal law associated with lawful restraint.

“There doesn’t seem to be any oversight on the school district level or the Rhode Island Department of Education to say, ‘Gee, it looks like there’s a problem at this elementary school, let’s look and see if maybe the people need to be taught more evidence-based behavior techniques,'” said attorney Ellen Saideman, who is working with the ACLU.

Families said the restraints used on their children occasionally led to bruising, and sometimes the students would be held for at least a half hour. The students all have special education plans — also known as an individualized education plans, or IEPs — for behavioral issues and other disabilities.

The students attended either Greenbush Elementary School in West Warwick or Davisville Academy in North Kingstown, according to the complaints, and one of the students was restrained as many as 45 times. The ACLU reported students were sometimes held in a so-called “prone position,” which is when a person is restrained face down.

The prone-position restraint has been illegal in schools since 2016. Cabral said it happened to Sophia.

“She told me she didn’t want to go in the closet anymore,” Cabral said.

West Warwick Superintendent Karen Tarasevich said she’s aware of the complaints, but she couldn’t comment on specific details about students because of “federal privacy laws.”

“The safety of our students is a top priority,” she said in a statement. “Accordingly, we ensure our faculty and staff have the updated certification and training needed to respond safely and appropriately to any escalating scenario, meeting all of RIDE’s requirements.”…

As part of the complaints, ACLU lawyers argued the restraints stopped entirely after three of the four students transferred out of the districts. In addition to the calls for federal intervention, the families are also seeking “compensatory education and mental health counseling, revisions to school procedures, improved oversight and accountability, and elimination of the use of restraint as punishment.”


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