Schools consider using handcuffs

Milwaukee system ponders how it might control violent and disruptive students

April 21, 2007|By P.J. Huffstutter | P.J. Huffstutter,Los Angeles Times

MILWAUKEE -- After a series of violent incidents on school campuses, public school officials here are considering the use of flexible plastic handcuffs on out-of-control students - from kindergarteners on up.

The Milwaukee School Board voted yesterday to begin training security staff members to use the plastic handcuffs, but the issue has provoked a heated debate between parents and administrators over how to provide a safe learning environment.

In October, a 15-year-old female student attacked the principal at Milwaukee's Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School. The principal sustained a concussion when her head was slammed against a wall and a compression fracture in her back.

In November, a female teacher at Madison High School was sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old male student in front of a class. Earlier in the school year, an assistant principal was assaulted by a student.

The issue of violence on school grounds took on an urgent tone with the Virginia Tech shooting rampage.

"Columbine escalated the desire to have law enforcement and security in schools, and that desire is going to only be renewed now," said Dick Caster, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, a nonprofit group that represents more than 9,000 school security guards.

"The key is making sure that staff is properly trained, especially given the debate that always seems to follow such efforts," Caster said.

That debate often cites the risk of injury from the process of putting on the handcuffs: accidentally choking or asphyxiating the subject while trying to restrain him or her, or that the cuffs would be used too tightly, interfering with blood circulation or cutting the skin.

The debate reached a feverish peak on Thursday when the Milwaukee School Board argued for nearly five hours over the handcuff resolution. The board voted to begin letting school safety officers train with the Milwaukee Police Department on how to use the restraints.

But before school officials can use them on students, the district must hold a series of community meetings and gather public opinion about the program. That feedback will be presented to the board later this year, and the board must give final approval before the handcuffs can be put into use.

P.J. Huffstutter writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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