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Report: Handcuffing of Young Students Used to Control 'Violent Individuals'

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By Christina Samuels. Cross posted from the On Special Education blog.

The school resource officer sued for handcuffing two elementary students in Kentucky last year was investigated in March and found to have followed school policy, according to the school district where he worked.

Deputy Kevin Sumner, along with the Kenton County Sheriff's Department, was sued on Aug. 3 by the American Civil Liberties Union and two local law firms. They contend that he violated the civil rights and the rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act rights of the students.

In a letter to parents dated Aug. 6, Superintendent Alvin Garrison noted that the district and its employees have not been named as a party to the lawsuit, and that an independent investigator found that Sumner followed law enforcement policy when he cuffed the two students—an 8-year-old 3rd-grade boy and a 9-year-old 4th-grade girl. She was cuffed on two occasions.

The ACLU released videos of one handcuffing incident, which involved the 3rd-grader. He has been identified in the lawsuit as S.R. In the video, Sumner says "I asked you not to kick," and "now, you give me the behavior that you know you're supposed to, or you suffer the consequences. It's your decision to behave this way." The lawsuit says S.R. was handcuffed for 15 minutes.

The investigative report was also shared with the media and is linked below. Investigator Gene Weaver wrote that school staff members were trained in the district's policies on restraint and seclusion, and did not restrain the students themselves. From the report:

In each instance, the children assaulted Deputy Sumner immediately prior to his decision to handcuff them. S.R. without provocation or warning swung at Deputy Sumner; L.G. [the 4th-grade girl] hit, spit, scratched him, and expelled and smeared mucous on him....In each instance, Deputy Sumner perceived that the students posed a safety threat to themselves, others, and him. Once the children calmed and were no longer a safety risk the restraints were removed. The handcuffs were not used as a form of punishment by Deputy Sumner; instead they were used for law enforcement purposes to bring two violent individuals (albeit, elementary aged students) under control...

S.R. has post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the lawsuit said. L.G., the second child involved in the case, was a 9-year-old 4th grader at the time of the incidents, and also has ADHD. Sumner was a teacher for four years, as well as a former Covington, Ky. police officer, according to local news reports. He joined the sheriff's department in December 2013 and became a resource officer in the 4,000-student district two months later.

In 2013, Kentucky adopted a policy that would prohibit restraint and seclusion of any student, except in the case of imminent harm to the student or others. School resource officers are included in a list of school personnel governed by the new policy, and the policy prohibits the use of restraints for punishment and to enforce compliance. However, the regulation also says that it "does not prohibit the lawful exercise of law enforcement duties by sworn law enforcement officers."

Kim Brooks Tandy, the executive director of the Children's Law Center in Covington, one of the firms that brought the suit, said the children in these cases were not restrained as a part of law enforcement duties.

"I don't think that the results of their independent investigation changes our position at all," she said. "It is still our position that there are needed policy changes within the school district and within the sheriff's department. Those policies cannot result in traumatizing young children."

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