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Massachusetts family says 9-year-old Black son with special needs was handcuffed at school



A Massachusetts family is looking for answers after they say their 9-year-old Black son with specials needs was handcuffed by police at school.

Lawyers for Civil Rights and Anderson Kreiger LLP Friday sent letters on behalf of the family to Walpole Public Schools and the Walpole Police Department asking for change stemming from an incident where police officers allegedly handcuffed the 9-year-old student at school, then transported him to a local hospital and held him in adult protective custody.

According to a statement from Lawyers for Civil Rights, the student is a third grader in the Walpole Public Schools, who has an individualized education plan based on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and delayed intelligence. On January 12, 2023, he became dysregulated while in his elementary school class. It is alleged that instructions in his IEP prescribed positive reinforcement for regulating his behavior and instead, school staff called the school resource officer, who in turn requested backup from the Walpole Police Department. Two additional police officers arrived at the school, according to LCR, and forcibly handcuffed the 9-year-old boy before restraining the boy’s arms and legs and transporting him to the hospital, where he was held in adult protective custody – unable to communicate with his mother until he was discharged.

“The actions taken by Walpole Public Schools and the Walpole Police Department against this 9-year-old boy were egregious, age-inappropriate, and directly contradicted the school’s own guidance for regulating his behavior,” said Erika Richmond, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights. She said the incident exemplifies the “adultification” of Black children, a form of discrimination where Black children are perceived and treated as older than they are, with WPS staff frequently describing the child as “big for his age” and “stronger than he looks.” “Because of this bias, a situation that could easily have been de-escalated instead led to a young Black boy being handcuffed and held in adult custody,” Attorney Richmond added. “It was an egregious departure from procedure and basic decency, evidencing either a complete lack of training for this scenario, or worse, willful neglect. It cannot happen again,” said Matthew Bowser, an Associate Attorney with Anderson Kreiger LLP.

The letters sent by LCR demand wide-ranging reforms by both WPS and WPD and an apology to the affected family. The family is reportedly exploring all legal options.

According to WBUR, Walpole Public Schools superintendent Bridget Gough said that she could not comment on the incident without parental permission. Walpole Police Chief Richard Kelleher stated in a letter that his department did respond to an elementary school in January “to assist staff with a student” but declined further comment.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Twitwanger

    May 6, 2023 at 8:24 pm

    It is clear that public educational institutions are ill equipped to handle such special needs students. When clinical decisions are necessary, non-medical personnel do not have the psychiatric training in order to de-escalte. The solution to this problem might lay outside of public school’s purview and maybe outside that of law enforcement.

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