NEW YORK— Two weeks after a 7-year-old special education (ed,) student was handcuffed in the Bronx, Assemblywoman Inez Barron announced on Thursday that she will introduce legislation that would make it illegal to handcuff any child under 12.
Barron says it is not right to handcuff any children, but she will start by protecting those of an especially tender age.
At PS 153 in the Bronx, 7-year-old Joseph Anderson got upset during an Easter art activity and brandished children's safety scissors, which the teacher took as a threatening action. The boy’s mother, Jessica Anderson, was notified. On her way to the school, the police were brought in. They handcuffed the child and brought him to the hospital for evaluation.
“Handcuffs don't protect a child from himself or herself or others—it traumatizes them,” said Councilman Charles Barron, who stood by his wife on the steps of City Hall.
Anderson now experiences extreme fear when he hears an ambulance or sees police officers. He vomits, has nightmares, and has trouble sleeping, according to the Barrons.
“Any teacher teaching special ed. should be trained on how to deal with emotional episodes,” added Councilman Barron.
He pointed out that even if teachers are afraid of liability, guidance counselors and other qualified individuals should be on site to handle these situations.
Udi Ofer, advocacy director for New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), reports that there are currently 5,200 police in the city's public schools, and 3,150 guidance counselors.
The DOE (Department of Education) did not respond to inquiries as of press time.
Anderson's experience is not an isolated incident. In January 2010, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action suit against the NYPD for excessive force used against public school students and wrongful arrest.
“From 2002 to June 2007, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau received 2,670 complaints against members of NYPD’s School Safety Division,” states the NYCLU website. Less than a month after the suit was filed, Alexa Gonzales, 12, was arrested in Queens for doodling on her desk with a marker. Ofer reports that the lawsuit is ongoing.
“The reason we filed the lawsuit and the reason we've called for the changes, is what used to be a walk to the principal's office is now a walk to the local precinct,” says Ofer.
In December 2010, City Council passed the School Safety Act, which requires the NYPD and DOE to regularly report on arrests and other disciplinary action. Ofer says the first round of data will come in June, so it is too early to tell whether the law will be effective or not.
Newly appointed Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told the Associated Press that he thinks handcuffing may be acceptable in some cases.
"We have many incidents that take place without handcuffs being used, and there are other means to engage, and so people do not make this decision lightly,” said Walcott.