In-depth: Advocates want ban on students being restrained amid alleged abuse at Antioch special needs school Tobinworld


SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A teacher’s aide caught by a cellphone camera allegedly abusing a 9-year-old boy created a firestorm and has a disability rights organization calling for change.

KRON’s Maureen kelly has been investigating the school where the incident took place earlier this year. On Friday, she talked to advocates who want to change state law to ban students from being restrained.

“There’s the person holding my right leg, there’s the person holding my left leg, and that’s the person holding my two arms down,” 12-year-old Stuart Candell said.

Candell has never attended Tobinworld. He has been a student at at least three other private East Bay special needs school. In one video shot by Maureen, he is drawing a picture of what used to happen to him at one of his old schools after he would act out in class.

Many times, that would result in him being restrained by school staff until he calmed down.

“It really hurt and, I couldn’t move, and I was upset, and I was screaming,” Candell said. “I was like, ‘No, Stop!”

RELATED: Tobinworld connected with controversial doctor

Stuart was 10 years old when he transferred to that school which specializes in children with autism.

“When they told me that they were restraining him, I thought, ‘Well they must know what they are doing, they are the experts,'” mother Bonnie Candell said. “I am a mom. This is my only kid who’s autistic and they’ve met millions of kids who are autistic, and so, ‘they must know what they’re doing.’”

That year, when a school photo was taken, Stuart was restrained nearly 100 times in 11 months.

His mom said sometimes those interventions would last an hour-and-a-half.

“He was afraid to go to school. Every day it was just…he became depressed, he became suicidal, he talked about dying – ‘I just want to die, I can’t deal with this, I can’t go to school, my life is terrible,’” Bonnie said. “He went up to our balcony and started to talk about jumping off the balcony. It was pretty bad for him.”

At a previous school, Stuart would sometimes be put in a seclusion room because of his outbursts.

“He felt angry. He felt scared,” Bonnie said.

“Sometimes it felt like forever,” Stuart said.

“Research has shown that restraint and seclusion do not teach a child anything,” said Leslie Morrison, who is with Disability Rights California.

She has seen the video of what went on at Tobinworld, where a teacher’s aide slapped and manhandled a 9-year-old special needs student. Two aides were fired as a result of that incident, and both are facing criminal prosecution.

Tobinworld called it an isolated incident.

Morrison believes it’s a rare glimpse of what she fears is a widespread problem.

“This kind of practice is pervasive in non-public schools that serve children with disabilities,” she said. “So, we have this opportunity, because of the Tobinworld video, to see the snapshot of what goes on but this isn’t just a problem in Tobinworld, this is a problem in non-public schools and even public schools that serve children with disabilities across the state, and the Department of Education’s failure to really address these practices.“

The practices she wants to see banned are using restraint holds and seclusion in California schools. The education code says emergency interventions can only be used when a student exhibits unpredictable spontaneous behavior that poses a clear and present danger to themselves or others.

Morrison said it happens more often than that.

“It isn’t because the student is posing an imminent risk of harm. It’s because they’re not behaving, and they’re not following teacher instructions,” she said. “They’re not walking down the hall. They’re not sitting in their chair. They’re not focusing on their school work.”

Morrison believes the words unpredictable and spontaneous in the law have created a loophole that schools exploit in more ways than one.

After these emergency interventions, schools are then supposed to write up reports and notify parents.

“Once it’s a repeated behavior for that child, the school no longer considers it unpredictable because this is the way this child behaves, so the parents stop getting notified,” Morrison said. “And we hear this from many parents. They have no idea how many times their child has been put in restraints or in seclusion because they aren’t notified by the school.”

In a previous report, two former Tobinworld aides demonstrated to KRON what’s called a basket containment. KRON showed the same video to Morrison.

She said it’s one of many types of restraint holds that while legal, can be dangerous.

“There’s been lots of research about children who have been asphyxiated and who have died in a restraint kind of a technique,” Morrison said. “Many states have moved to banning these or seriously limiting their use in schools. California is not among them. ”

The advocates said that law was changed in 2013 so the state is no longer required to collect and publish data on the use of these emergency interventions, making it hard to track how often kids are put in seclusion or force is used against them in schools.

Stuart’s mom says her son is now going to a school that uses restraints much less frequently.

“The first question I had was –‘how many restraints have you had this year’ – and they said – ‘for our whole population, I think eight’ – (laughs)…and I said – ‘Ok that’s what I’m looking for,’” Bonnie said.

She said Stuart has blossomed at his new school.

You can see the smile in his class picture this year is wider, and the pictures he now draws are much more cheerful.

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