Boy who was cuffed may be moved Tentative agreement allows for new school to meet special needs

July 30, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

The 6-year-old boy who was handcuffed and removed by police from Woodmoor Elementary School in May is likely to be transferred to a school where he can get specialized attention for his disabilities, the boy's mother says.

After weeks of psychological evaluations, a group made up of school officials, the boy's mother and her attorney agreed yesterday to recommend sending Jerrell Murray to the Chatsworth School in Reisterstown, which has a program for students with severe learning and behavior problems. The recommendation must be approved by school system officials.

At Chatsworth, most teachers are trained in restraining children who are out of control, and the school shifts disruptive students from the classroom to a room with a teacher trained in crisis intervention. The school rewards students for good behavior, said Marjorie M. Rofel, the county's special education director.

"I was very pleased with the decision," said Octavia Murray, the boy's mother. "If an incident happened where he couldn't do his work and got upset, someone can help him.

"I asked if they would handcuff him and they said no. I have a problem with handcuffs."

Woodmoor Principal Antoinette G. Lyles also applauded the decision.

"From the very beginning the concern was always what was best for the child," Lyles said.

The move comes more than two months after Jerrell was handcuffed on the wrists and ankles, and taken to the hospital after an outburst in the school office. Police said the boy hit and headbutted the assistant principal and was in danger of hurting himself and others.

Jerrell's parents said school officials knew Jerrell was on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and should have called an ambulance.

Officials have declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing the confidentiality of student information. It is unclear why Jerrell remained in a regular classroom so long, and had not been evaluated for special education services.

He had been diagnosed with the disorder by a psychiatrist and prescribed medication, and the problem was listed on school records. The first-grader had been acting up in class for three years, though the latest outburst apparently was the most serious.

His case appears to have touched paradoxes that challenge schools nationwide.

By law, schools must place disabled students in the least restrictive environment, trying all methods possible to treat them as regular students before stigmatizing them with "special education" labels.

The push is particularly strong when dealing with minority children, who often are overrepresented in special education classes.

Baltimore County, with several other Maryland school districts, has drawn a review from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for disproportionate numbers of minorities in special education. Jerrell is black.

"When I talked with [school officials], they said they wished to mainstream him for as long as possible without stigmatizing him and in the hope that he might outgrow the behaviors," said Lina Ayers, an attorney from Advocates for Children & Youth, who is representing the family.

Tests reveal that Jerrell is a bright child, but his problem is impulsiveness and lack of ability to concentrate for long periods of time, she said.

First grade posed problems because that is the year children must start sitting at desks, raising hands and standing in line.

On that day in May, according to Ayers and Murray, Jerrell was not out of control in the classroom, but seeking attention.

He was asked to draw clouds, which he had done many times before, but on this day he insisted on the teacher's help. Jerrell repeatedly tapped her on the shoulder.

She told him to return to his seat.

Finally, she sent him to the office. Something happened either on the way to the office or in the office that set him off.

"What's clear is this teacher is incredibly kind and patient and experienced, an excellent teacher, but she is not a special education teacher," Ayers said.

Still, Ayers doesn't think the school acted swiftly enough to identify Jerrell's problem. Midway through first grade, concerns were raised about his suitability for the regular classroom, but he was not evaluated, she said, adding, "It's a violation of his rights."

Lyles wouldn't comment directly on the case, but said the school generally follows the law and procedures when diagnosing children with disabilities.

"Sometimes it seems to people that these things could have been done faster, but the law says you have to try different things, that you have to show you've made an attempt through regular education," she said.

Meanwhile, Murray said, Jerrell has been having nightmares that police are chasing him, sticking things in his eye.

Ayers and Murray want at least some staffers in all schools to be trained in restraining children in a safe and calming manner.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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