By Cheryl Chumley
Officials at a Virginia school turned an allegedly misbehaving 4-year-old preschooler over to law enforcement, where he was put in handcuffs and shackles and ordered to talk to jail inmates, according to a legal group intervening in the case.
The unnamed student, who was enrolled in the pre-kindergarten program at Nathanael Greene Primary School, in Stanardsville, Virginia, was removed from the classroom Oct. 16 after allegedly “becoming agitated and throwing several items onto the floor.”
“That such extreme restraints would even be contemplated in a case such as this points to a failure by those in leadership to provide the proper guidance to school personnel in what forms of restraint and force are appropriate when dealing with students, especially the youngest and most vulnerable,” said a letter sent this week to school district officials by John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, which was asked by the mother to intervene.
“It is imperative that Green County Public Schools take steps to assure [the student’s mother] and the rest of the community of parents and concerned citizens that what happened to [the student] will not happen again to him or other students of similar age,” Whitehead said.
The letter said policies should make it clear that handcuffing, shackling and other “excessive restraint techniques are never appropriate when dealing with children of tender years.”
“Under the circumstances, Green County Public Schools should also rescind the suspension imposed upon [the student] and remove any indication of the incident from [the student’s] records. The trauma [the student] has endured, which continues to cause him nightmares and may forever taint his experience and thoughts about school, should not be compounded by a blemish on his record.”
Whitehead asked for a response to the letter by Dec. 30.
When the conflict with the student arose Oct. 16, his mother was called, and she informed the school she was on her way to the school.
However, school personnel then called a Greene County deputy sheriff to confront the preschooler, which agitated the student further.
“The officer escalated the situation by treating the 4-year-old as if he were being arrested: handcuffing [the student] and transporting him in a police car to a Greene County sheriff’s office,” the letter said.
There, the officer “forced [the 4-year-old] to speak with persons who had been arrested in an apparent attempt to ‘scare straight’ the preschooler,” the letter said.
“No child, particularly children of tender years who are as emotionally fragile as [the student] should have to endure the shock and fright that accompanies handcuffing and shackling,” the letter said. “These extreme forms of restraint are meant to be used only in those instances where law enforcement officers would be endangered by their proximity to unencumbered persons who pose a risk of violence.”
The letter noted that not only has a psychologist confirmed the incident could have “long-term consequences,” the school’s actions also may have been a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable seizures.
“It is self-evident that handcuffing and shackling a four-year-old by a law enforcement officer is excessive, unwarranted and unnecessarily traumatizing,” the letter said.
“That it was a sheriff’s deputy and not a public school official who handcuffed and shackled this 4-year-old does not detract from the fact that this mother entrusted her son to the care of school officials, trusting them to care for him as she would, with compassion, understanding and patience,” said Whitehead, author of “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.”