Kevin Aherne (@KAherne17)
Most parents will agree that discipline is vital to a child's successful development. In extreme cases, that discipline can be physical in nature.
But when does use of physical discipline cross the line into child abuse?
This week, a concerned parent reached out to 990WBOB, alleging in a letter that Tiogue Elementary School--part of the Coventry Public School District--has repeatedly crossed that line with their son, a second grader with Autism.
According to Nick Tetreault, the school is in violation of the state's law on use of physical restraint in schools, and use the measure reserved for extreme situations far more often than required, and even as method for intimidation.
"We've learned that the school finds it appropriate to use physical restraints and threaten to use physical restraints as forms of discipline," said Tetreault.
Elliot Krieger, a spokesman from the office of Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah A. Gist could not weigh in on a specific student issue, but did point out the state's policies for use of physical restraints on students.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), use of physical restraint is only permissible when (a) Non-physical interventions would not be effective AND the student's behavior poses a threat of imminent, serious, physical harm to self and/or others; AND if a behavioral intervention plan has been developed for the student, those various positive reinforcement techniques have been implemented appropriately and the child has failed to respond to those techniques.
IEP not followed
Tetreault's son Zachary began attending Tiogue Elementary School this past fall, after first being placed at the Hopkins Hills Elementary School which was not properly suited for Zachary's special education needs.
"When we first moved, we showed the special education director, and principal of Hopkins Hill Zachary’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and they threw him in a class with about 20 kids, on top of that he was the only autistic child in his classroom," Tetreault explained. "My wife and I voiced our concern about him being in that environment as it conflicts with his IEP. The teacher, principal, and special education director all said he’d be fine here."
He was not fine there. Less than a week later, the school contacted the Tetreault family, explaining that Zachary was not working out at Hopkins Hill, and would be transferred to the Tiogue Elementary School, where his needs would be better met.
Up until this point, according to Tetreault, Zachary had been restrained at school only once in the four years he attended Warwick Public Schools. That one time, Tetreault commented, was for just reason.
Upon making the switch to Tigoue, the father alleges, "In this past month in Tiogue School, Zachary has been restrained several times, sometimes even multiple times per day."
"Principal Seitsinger told us that Beth Arrico was under investigation," claims Tetreault. "A day later the investigation was over and she found nothing wrong. Sounds like a cover up to me."
So what is a parent to do when they feel their child is being mishandled?
Know your rights
LINK: RIDE Restraint Regulations
LINK: RIDE Special Education Regulations
Alert the proper authorities, and file a complaint
RI Special-Education Hotline: (401) 222-8999
LINK: RI Disability Law Center: (401) 831-3150
LINK: Parent Support Network of Rhode Island: (401) 467-6855
Editor's Notes: Multiple attempts to contact the Coventry Public School District were made. A representative from Superintendent Dr. Michael Almeida's office declined to comment, and attempts to reach out to Dr. Almeida directly received no immediate response.
The allegations are of from the family involved, and have not been verified with any public agency.