Special Education Restraint Questioned

By Joetta Sack-Min

As his foster mother wept, a thin African-American boy with a vague smile gazed from a portrait at a panel of U.S. representatives and staff last spring. Toni Price brought 14-year-old Cedric Napoleon’s photo and story to Capitol Hill, determined that his death at the hands of his special education teacher would serve as notice of the improper use of restraints on special education students.

Cedric, who had been underfed and severely abused before being placed in foster care, had gotten into a dispute with his teacher because she delayed his lunch at his Killeen, Texas, middle school, Price told the lawmakers. According to reports, his 230-pound teacher pushed him to the floor and lay on top of him for several minutes, despite his pleas that he couldn’t breathe, as his classmates watched him suffocate.

Police later classified the case as a homicide, and the school district placed the teacher’s name on a state list of those who had abused students; however, a Texas grand jury declined to prosecute the teacher.

“After I read the autopsy report, I was taken aback at how much a school can get away with,” Price told the lawmakers. “I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s child. It is awful the way Cedric died. This should have never happened.”

While such incidents initially were thought to be rare, an investigation by the federal Government Accounting Office last year found that restraining or isolating disruptive students may be much more common than expected, particularly in special education classrooms. Some states already have counted thousands of incidents, and researchers studying the issue believe even those numbers are underestimated.

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