In a somewhat shocking allegation, two Indiana parents have filed a formal suit against the LaPorte Community School Corp., naming in their documents a teacher and two special education assistants. as well as a number of other educators and administrators. This lawsuit comes in reaction to finding that their 8-year-old autistic daughter was being strapped into a homemade restraining desk without their knowledge and against the express prohibitions in place against doing so.
The Northwest Indiana Times also reports that the parents of the girl, Charles and Heather Castle, became suspicious when their daughter started returning home from school exhibiting “new and troubling behaviors” including refusal to wear a seat belt in the car as well as frequent emotional outbursts that were absent hitherto.
The formal complaint states that the Castles’ daughter has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in addition to a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The young girl displays symptoms common to autism — including a certain difficulty adjusting to change, mutual conversation, and play — but she is very intelligent and has a natural gift for artistic expression. She has been enrolled in an individual education plan or IEP for the past five years and was enrolled in the special education program beforehand.
The Castles began to become suspicious about the treatment their daughter was receiving while at school as early as April of last year when their daughter returned home off the bus without shoes, socks, or jacket. The bus driver apparently told the parents that their daughter had boarded the bus in this fashion. In May, a month later, their daughter came home with bruises on her cheekbone and elbow, which an educator claimed occurred when she fell on her desk.
As the September classes began following summer break, the Castles’ claim their daughter’s disparate behavior worsened. She refused to wear a seatbelt in the car and adamantly refused to get dressed to go to school in the mornings. She was tortured by frequent and disturbing nightmares, lost all interest in her art, and was prone to “extreme meltdowns.” The mother and father started to observe bruises and abrasions on their daughter’s back, hips, and arms — which they photographed and preserved.
On the day of September 21, Charles Castle alleges in the complaint that he walked into his daughter’s classroom after greeting a staff member on the way in. There, he was “shocked” to find a homemade plywood restraint desk bearing his daughter’s name. Next to it was a nearly identical chair, a tan belt laid overtop.
The homemade device reportedly had partitions built into it to accommodate restraining hardware and the top was covered in felt, though the rest remained unfinished and rough plywood according to the filed legal paperwork.
No mention of the restraint chair or the use of restraint was mentioned to the Castles in person nor in their daughters IEP. In an emergency meeting called just over a week later with Paula Nichols — director of the South LaPorte County Special Education Cooperative — Nichols allegedly told the Castle family that the district’s attorney had said, “they had not done anything wrong.”
The lawsuit points out that the Indiana Administrative Code prohibits the use of physical restraint in educational facilities, “except in situations where the student’s behavior poses imminent risk of injury to self or others.”
The school district’s own regulations match up to the state code, also prohibiting the non-emergency use of physical restraint upon students.
The Castle family is seeking an unspecified amount in damages against the defendants for civil rights and constitutional violations.