Hyperactive elementary student who assaulted...

A 6-YEAR-OLD

June 15, 1996

A 6-YEAR-OLD hyperactive elementary student who assaulted his teacher and vice principal was cuffed by a visiting policeman this week, and his parents, a school board member and children's advocates have raised the specter of abuse. But there are no villains in this story.

It is one thing, days afterward, to say what should have been done, and quite another to make decisions in an emergency. Immediate steps had to be taken to ensure the safety of the child and others. The policeman intervened with that intention. He did not manhandle the boy or treat him like a criminal. He took him to the hospital, not the nearest precinct.

Most criticism from the boy's parents and others centers on Woodmoor Elementary administrators, who they feel should have called an ambulance. Baltimore County schools do not have firm rules for such emergencies. Some could argue they should, but even that wouldn't always guarantee the most "humane" response, either. Staffers are instructed to make judgments as to who to call based on the circumstances. Had an officer not been present, it seems logical an ambulance would have been called, given the child's age and medical history. But since a policeman was already at the scene, one can hardly blame administrators for not rejecting his help.

And while it is possible the situation could have worked out better had an ambulance been summoned, there is no assurance it would have. What if school officials had removed the handcuffs while awaiting medical aid and the child injured himself or someone else? Perhaps being strapped to an ambulance gurney would have carried less negative connotations for him, but that, too, could have been upsetting.

The real tragedy is that this case is not an anomaly. It exemplifies the difficulties of teaching in public schools today. We ask educators to provide quality instruction while devoting great chunks of time and energy to a growing number of children with behavioral problems, emotional disturbances and medical needs. We expect them to make decisions regarding these children with the children's best interests at heart. We cannot expect those decisions to always be perfect.

Pub Date: 6/15/96

Handcuffs for a child; Baltimore County: Restraining pupil was well-intentioned, emergency response, not abuse.

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