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Pittsburgh Public Schools Handcuffed Student ADA Class Action

Rear of School Bus

This case takes on the handcuffing of an elementary-school child as a means of restraining him. The complaint for this class action argues that Pittsburgh Public Schools and its school officer were out of line in doing so, and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The class for this action is all students with disabilities, or who should be identified as described in under 20 USC § 1415(k)(5), who have been or will be unlawfully handcuffed or restrained by school district personnel or school police officers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The child in this case is identified only as DC. He was a first grader and only seven when he was put in handcuffs in February 2017. The case is brought by his mother, identified as AT, and his grandfather, identified as FT.

DC is a handicapped person under the ADA, the complaint says, because he has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). In December 2015, in kindergarten, the complaint describes him as “having difficulty remaining in his seat and struggling with directions.” 

When DC entered first grade in 2016, the complaint says his behaviors “continued to escalate.” Although the school gave AT information about the Student Assistance Program, it did not evaluate him for special education supports and services. 

A good part of the complaint is taken up with narrating DC’s behavioral problems: throwing things, leaving the classroom, screaming, kicking, throwing desks, pushing other students, having a physical altercation with a teacher, walking on a ledge over a stairwell, and so on. On one occasion, one of his teachers placed a knee on his back in order to restrain him, and on another occasion, choked him. The complaint contends that the teacher’s restraints were unlawful. 

The complaint claims that his mother had to obtain an educational advocate to make sure the child received supports and services. Although the school district provided him with a paraprofessional, his behaviors continued to escalate.

On January 5, 2017, DC destroyed school property, threw things, and pushed staff members, among other things. He was restrained in a small room but escaped. The complaint says that his mother was told to come to get him immediately. Officer Parker then came and handcuffed him for a period of time and, according to the complaint, when his mother came, “threatened to involuntarily commit” the child if she did not take him from the school.

Finally, on January 26, the district completed an evaluation report. The report says that it was clear that his teachers “were very aware of his emotional, attention-related, and mental health needs. Yet, the District failed to take any steps to provide him with the necessary support.” Eventually he was placed at the Watson Institute’s Friendship Academy, “an Approved Private School.”

The complaint claims violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the ADA, among other things.

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