Family suing Pittsburgh Public Schools after alleged mistreatment in discipline situations

Category:  Opinions
Sunday, March 29th, 2020 at 2:12 PM

The family of a 7-year-old boy in Pittsburgh is suing the Pittsburgh Public Schools, alleging their son was handcuffed, secluded and physically abused through multiple disciplinary incidents, per theappeal.org 

According to the same website, the now class action lawsuit is for students with disabilities, or “those who should be identified as such,” that have been unlawfully handcuffed or restrained by school police officers. 

According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the suit alleges that the boy was not only handcuffed, but choked by a teacher, held in place by a teacher with a knee on his back, and the police were called many times. The mother says she held various meetings and calls with the school and sought therapy for the boy. He was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD.  

It should be noted the teacher’s attorney has stated the knee incident was an accident and the choking did not happen.  

Reading the reports and stories about what this little boy dealt with was difficult for me. My 12-year-old brother has ADHD and is biracial; I’m terrified of how these two things mix for the adults that run his school and the police. 

While my family has gotten lucky with the teachers my brother has had, I grew up in the area after the Trayvon Martin shooting, and I’ve seen the terror my friends of color have in situations like this.  

While I don’t personally know this family or their son, I know what it's like. I know what it's like to watch as your sibling struggles to sit still and focus. The possibility that teachers, that should want to better our youth, could react this way, and the idea that the school would hold off on an individualized education program (IEP) for so long and recommend going to the police so often, is terrifying.  

If true, how do you look at a kindergartner and decide that you need to physically handle them like that, especially as a teacher? Teaching is a stressful job, I’m well aware, and the pay usually isn’t all that great, but it could never excuse these alleged actions.  

I imagine the fits the boy had were stressful for everyone involved. Throwing and damaging school property, as well as pushing staff is not OK, and I feel for everyone that was involved in the situation. But this suit alleges that incidents happened repeatedly and nothing was done to provide the boy and his family support. According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when the district did create a “crisis intervention plan,” it “specifically relied upon the utilization of school police.” 

A school has IEPs; they have resources and knowledge that most families do not. The district eventually recommended “smaller class sizes” and “a full-time emotional support setting.” Too little, too late.  

The family has since moved their son into a different school district, and per The Appeal, the boy is playing football and has since been diagnosed with PTSD.  

I hope that Pittsburgh schools and schools everywhere look at incidents like this, no matter who comes out on top in court, and try to help more before it reaches that point. There are an alarming set of incidents like this popping up around the country and it isn’t OK. Students cannot help their race or disabilities, and I hope that schools look at their policies and change, because we cannot raise a generation of children that are mishandled because of something they cannot control.

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