“Next on the nightly news, a shocking video of excessive force used on a young, mentally handicapped child. We warn you that the video you are about to see is disturbing. It shows two adult males (a middle school administrator and a teacher) forcefully wrenching the arms of a much smaller 13 year old Special Ed. student as they slam him into a chair.”
Wow! Is your righteous indignation heating up? Are you ready to abandon due process and fire those vicious adults? Or did you ask yourself, ‘Does the video really show the whole story?’
Questions regarding excessive force
Claims of excessive force have been in the news of late and it seems to me that not enough details are being discussed to give a genuinely clear picture of when force is necessary or what force is necessary. I’m not talking about the clear cut cases where someone has submitted to authority and then suffered a beating – that is excessive. I want to examine the cases where it is obvious that the suspect or child is not compliant. I want to ask these questions of all those advocates out there, “How many fights have you ever broken up? Have you ever been in a situation with a child where safety of the child or others was at stake and the child refuses to comply with your authority? What did/do you do?” I call this ‘Catch 22’ situation ‘extreme behavioral management’.
I don’t have the video of the situation I described in the first paragraph but I will tell you about it. I was the teacher!
Teaching Special Ed.
I had taken a job as a long term substitute teacher for a Special Ed. class which was labeled ‘severely disabled’ (severe autism, Tourette’s syndrome, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and more). The regular teacher had accepted a job at another school and they were having trouble finding a full time replacement for him. I had successfully worked at that school in other difficult assignments so they felt that I was the best interim teacher under the circumstances (I was trained in Special Ed. – it just wasn’t my regular field). Things went well for the most part and the kids were adorable – tragic but adorable.
Then one day I got called into the Assistant Principal’s office. Mr. Schultz and I had worked together before and we had a good relationship. Schultz pointed to a spindly, spider monkey of a 13 year old boy seated there and said, “Mr. D. I want to introduce you to Billy. He is a member of your class and he will be returning to your class tomorrow.” Billy nodded his hello. I had heard about Billy. He had been suspended for unprovoked attacks on other kids in his class and now, after the suspension and intense counseling, he was being returned to school. Mr. Schultz wanted us to meet privately in a calm atmosphere so Billy would know that he had a new teacher and, hopefully, he would be calm about it. It seemed like he was.
Mr. Schultz explained, “Mr. D. is the new teacher for your class. Do you think you can be okay with that?” Billy nodded his assent. Schultz continued, “Billy, do you know why you were suspended?” Billy said, “Yes.” Schultz laid out the terms of returning to class, “Billy, do you understand you are not to hit the other children in your class? Otherwise we can’t let you stay here.” Billy said, “Yes.”
It seemed like we had reached an agreement when without any warning Billy leaped over Schultz’s huge office desk and clawed at Schultz’s throat! I jumped up and tried to pull Billy off of Schultz. It was not easy. I am an athletic 5’ 8” and Schultz was well over 6 feet tall and Billy was barely 5’ 7” and 80 lbs. but (start the cameras now) how do you subdue a mentally challenged kid who is on an all out attack without hurting him or getting hurt yourself?
We eventually got ahold of an arm each and had to bend them behind Billy’s back to control his attack and not get hit, kicked or bitten ourselves as we forced him into his chair (stop the cameras now). Billy did not return to the class or the school.
Schultz and I had done everything right according to our training. We started with a calm, unthreatening atmosphere. We never raised our voices. We were never sarcastic or insulting yet… can you see how a short video of the scuffle could be interpreted as excessive force? We had to lay hands on Billy or Schultz would have had his throat clawed out. What would you have done?