CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — A school security officer handcuffed a 7-year-old Florida boy with special needs who acted out in class and had him taken to a mental health facility, a decision the boy’s mother is criticizing and school officials are defending.
It’s the second time in weeks that Florida school officials have been criticized for restraining a young child for having an emotional meltdown at school.
Tyeisha Harmon of Clearwater told reporters her son acted out in class last Wednesday at Belcher Elementary School, but he has emotional issues and is supposed to have a structured environment. She said he recently changed classrooms and that triggered him.
What exactly happened in the classroom isn’t known. Harmon says the school called her, but by the time she arrived her son had already been taken to a mental health facility. She said he was examined and released four hours later. That’s when he told her he had been handcuffed before being driven away in a police car, showing her marks on his wrists.
“To handcuff him and put him in the backseat — not only did you handcuff him but you did it so tightly that it left marks on his hands and he’s 7. What’s he going to do? He’s 7 and in the backseat,” Harmon told WFTS-TV.
Pinellas County school officials issued a statement defending the officer’s actions, saying Harmon’s son “was engaging in dangerous activity that could have hurt the student or others. Please know that restraint of students is only used as a last resort when other interventions have not resolved the issue. The safety, health and well-being of our students and staff is our highest priority.”
Video released last month showed an Orlando reserve police officer arresting 6-year-old Kaia Rolle, whose wrists were zip tied before she was led begging and crying to a patrol car. She had kicked and punched school staff members, but had calmed down before officers arrived. The officer was fired for not following department policy, which requires the approval of superiors before arresting any child under 12.
School resource officers came under close scrutiny in Florida after former Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson failed to confront a shooter who killed 17 at a Parkland high school in 2018, taking cover outside the building where the shootings happened. He was charged last year with child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury. That case is ongoing.
The Florida House passed a measure last week that would require police agencies adopt policies regulating the arrest of anyone under 10. It is now awaiting action by the state Senate.