SILC Council Member provides testimony to Michigan Education Committee

SILC Council Member Dawn Reamer provided testimony to the Michigan Education Committee on  restraint and seclusion bills currently before the legislature.

The testimony was as follows:

A word document of the testimony is available here:  SILC Member testimony to Education Committee

I would like to thank Representative Price and the Education Committee for taking testimony on the restraint and seclusion bills.  I would also like to thank Representative Somerville, as my story relates to his district.

My name is Dawn Reamer and I am a parent of a child that was restrained by his special education teacher.  My son is a great kid.  He is a Boy Scout, a gymnast, a springboard diver, a swimmer, and an honor roll student.  He is also on the autism spectrum.  My son was in second grade when he was tied to the chair by his special education teacher.  He was just 7 years old.  He was not tied to a chair because he was acting out or a safety risk to other students.  He was tied to a chair simply because he was in the classroom.  There was a paraprofessional in the room along with the teacher and the other adult.  They abused my child.  By the end of second grade my child was saying that he “didn’t want to be a person anymore”, that he didn’t want to be alive.  I didn’t know where his anxiety was coming from.  He couldn’t verbalize it like other seven year olds.  A parent went to the school principal after observing the incident, but no one told me.  I did not find out that this had happened until 2 ½ years later when he was finally able to find the words to tell me what the teacher had done to him.  At this time, the parent verified that she had witnessed him being tied to the chair.  My son told me it happened at least 10 times.  He was in this teacher’s classroom for 3 years.  The district has admitted it happened at least once and the school does not think it was a big deal.  It was a big deal for my child.

I wish that I could say that I went to the superintendent of the district and that it was handled appropriately.  I wish that I could say that somebody cared and was willing to address my concern.  Instead, I received confirmation that the incident had happened and that my son never had behaviors that would have justified restraint.  I also learned that at least one device used to restrain my son remained in the classroom until last year.  This means that other students were likely being restrained.  When I asked for the district to take corrective action, none came.  They refused to document this incident in the teacher’s file or implement any sort of policy that would prevent such incident from happening again.  The District has not even had the decency to apologize to me or my child.  Instead, when I appeared before the school board, a member was quick to point out that special education had improved considerably during the last 30 years and completely dismissed the concern.

I reported the concern to the Michigan Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights.  They refused to even look at the concern because I did not report it within a short time period after the incident, which I did not know about, occurred.  When I approached Lt. Governor Calley, who I view as a friend to special education students, I was told that what happened to my son was not illegal.

The school district was permitted to abuse my child.  When I tried to address my concern at the Individual Education Plan meeting for my child, instead of demonstrating any accountability the director of special education verbally attacked me and accused me of slander in front of the educational team.  This was the worst meeting on an Individual Education Plan I have ever experienced.  Parents should not have hostility directed at them for trying to address serious concerns involving their child.  Following the team meeting, I made a hard decision.  My son and I have been living in an apartment in a new district while we prepare our house for sale.  Following the team meeting, it was clear that my son has experienced retaliation and that it would continue.  I had to move him out of the district or any school that is a part of the special education cooperative for my region.

I would like to call your attention to one more point.  In their letter acknowledging the incident, the superintendent says that the device in the room was not used as a restraint.  The device in question secured my child to a chair.  There was not a prescription issued for the device, it was not ordered for my child, and it was used without my knowledge or consent.  He was restrained, regardless of how the superintendent chooses to characterize it.  Use of any mechanical restraint, regardless of alleged purpose, should be viewed with disapproval.  The district made excuses, but in the end the district admitted that my son was restrained with no remorse, apology, or guarantee that it would never happen again.

I don’t know what is worse.  The fact that my child was restrained, the fact that the district refused to recognize what it did as wrong, or the fact that there are likely other things that happened to my child that I still don’t know about.

I am here today because the law needs to change.  It is not okay to abuse children simply because they have an Individual Education Plan.  The Supreme Court has said that children don’t leave their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.  The right to life and liberty is the most fundamental of these rights.  Laws against assault, battery, false imprisonment, kidnapping, and child abuse should apply to all students.  The current situation is dehumanizing to persons with disabilities.  Please don’t let any other family have the same experience.  Don’t let any school in Michigan continue to harm students.

Thank you for allowing me to testify and for your support of the bills regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in the State of Michigan.