5 Year-Old Boy Handcuffed
Posted by shadmia on January 27, 2008
Dennis Rivera, 5, a kindergartener at a PS 81 in Queens was handcuffed by a school safety agent and taken to Elmhurst Hospital by EMS, for a psychiatric evaluation. His mother, Jasmina Vazquez, was livid. She is demanding answers for the brutal way the school handled her child.
“I think it was excessive force. It was unnecessary what they did to my son,” she said.
5 year-old Dennis suffers from asthma, has speech problems, and may have attention deficit disorder. The incident happened on Jan. 17 around 11 a.m., when the boy allegedly threw a tantrum:
The police report says the child was “punching his teacher and swinging wildly at school aides, that he smacked the assistant principal in the face, ran into a corner, and began to throw things on the floor.”
He was taken to the principal’s office and while there he apparently knocked items off of a desk. Rather than calling the boy’s parents, a school safety agent cuffed the boy’s small hands behind his back using metal restraints, the school source said. The agent and school officials then called an ambulance to take the tot to Elmhurst Hospital Center for a mental evaluation.
Vasquez was stunned when a guidance counselor called her at work to say her son was being taken to the psych ward. She rushed to the school from her job as a patient representative at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. On the way, she called Dennis’ baby-sitter, who was closer to PS 81, and asked her to hurry over to the school. When baby-sitter Sandy Ortiz arrived, Dennis was still handcuffed, she said. School safety agents also were holding his elbows even though the boy was calm, Ortiz said. Dennis is about 4-feet-3 and weighs 68 pounds.
“I hugged him. I said, ‘OK, release the cuffs, I’m taking him,'” she recalled. “They told me, ‘No, Miss. You’re not taking him anywhere.’ I was so upset. There’s no reason to handcuff a baby of 5 years old, traumatize him that way,” she said.
The handcuffs were removed before Dennis was walked out of the school and driven by ambulance to Elmhurst Hospital Center. He was evaluated at the hospital and released about four hours later. Vasquez immediately withdrew Dennis from PS 81 and enrolled him in a private school, Grand Street Settlement.
The Department of Education is investigating, as are the police who are responsible for school safety agents.
“The reality is something had to be done,” said Gregory Floyd of the City Employees Union, which represents the school safety officer. Floyd said cuffing the child was the last resort.
New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein said cases like Rivera’s involve judgment calls.
“I find it troubling when you see a young kid in handcuffs, it’s got to bother you,” he said.
As troubling as this story is, it is not the first time a 5 year-old had been handcuffed at school.
“The situation with school discipline is out of control,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Lieberman said the incident is another example of what the union calls the “criminalization of the classroom.”
“There’s something fundamentally wrong when school safety agents are handcuffing a kid who is 5-years-old for having a tantrum,” she said.