Parents: Autistic child injured by school resource officer

The parents of a 10-year-old student with autism said his rights were violated when a Denton school called police to address behavioral issues.  He is shown in this picture with bruises believed to be sustained when police restrained him with handcuffs.
The parents of a 10-year-old student with autism said his rights were violated when a Denton school called police to address behavioral issues. He is shown in this picture with bruises believed to be sustained when police restrained him with handcuffs.

A 10-year-old autistic student at Denton's Lee Elementary was injured by a school resource officer when he displayed behavioral issues associated with his developmental disorder, according to the parents and advocates of the child.

The fifth-grade student, whose name is being withheld by his parents, was restrained by a school resource officer with handcuffs on April 30. Parents Emily and Robert Brown said in a statement and in news reports that their child had "severe bruising" on his head, wrists, back and knees as a result of the incident.

"It is a shame that when a child shows up for school that they have to be fearful for their safety," the Browns said in a statement on May 11. "It's even more disheartening that the school bully turns out to be the school resource officer."

The Browns also stated they referred the case to Child Protective Services.

Autism is a social and behavioral disorder that qualifies the Brown's fifth-grade student for special education under federal laws. His teachers and parents craft and review an educational plan that includes how to respond to situations in which he displays behavioral issues, said Mike Holum, an advocate who works with the Browns on their child's special education needs.

Holum said the district failed to abide by the student's individualized special education plan and violated his rights. The parents have pulled the child from Lee Elementary while seeking answers from police and the school district.

"We are keenly aware that maladaptive behaviors exist as a result of our child's disability and will diligently continue with every effort to extinguish those behaviors, so that he can be a productive member of our society," the Browns said in their statement. "However, we cannot in good conscience send our child to this school."

Mario Zavala, director of communications for Denton schools, said the school resource officer and a district behavior interventionist felt threatened. He said the officer reacted according to training.

"Every situation is unique and we try to do as best as we can to work with the families," Zavala said, adding that this includes trying to deescalate a situation and trying to calm down the student so physical intervention is not needed.

The officer's handling of situation is being investigated by Denton police, said Denton police spokesman Shane Kizer. The officer is on-duty at his post as a school resource officer.

The Denton police has school resource officers assigned to middle and high schools.

Denton police said that on April 30, a school resource officer was called to Lee Elementary School at the request of a staff member. Police were told that a special needs student had been agitated all day, according to a press released issued by Denton police.

The officer who responded is assigned to a middle school.

"When the officer arrived in the classroom, the student was pacing around the classroom ignoring directions from the teachers," the police press release states. "He pulled a computer mouse loose from the computer and began swinging it around in the area of other children."

A staff member took the mouse away, but he picked up another object and poked another student with it, according to police. He continued to disturb the class and pinched a student, the police stated. Then, school staff decided to remove the child out of safety concerns, the press release said.

"The student would not comply, which necessitated the officer to pick up the child and carry him into a vacant room," the police release states. "On the way, the student began to kick the officer. Once in the room, the officer placed the student on his stomach and put him in handcuffs in an attempt to keep him from committing further assaults."

Police said the student continued to "kick and flail about." When he began to calm down, he was moved to a seated position. But the student began spitting on the officer and was placed on his stomach again and apparently began hitting his head on the floor, according to the release. The child was held down to keep him from harming himself, the release said.

The police described how this pattern continued until his mother arrived and he was released into her custody. He was not charged with assaulting the officer or the school staff, according to police.

Holum said that, under the student's plan, the child should have been taken to a "cool down room" as agreed to by the Browns. A behavior specialist should have addressed the needs of the child. Holum also questioned the officer's use of handcuffs in a situation that didn't reflect imminent serious danger.

Holum said the child became terrified when he was handcuffed.

"This kid is traumatized," Holum said.