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Parents concerned about bill that would let SSOs restrain special education students

School security officer SSO - Image via Hamilton County Schools.PNG
School security officer SSO - Image via Hamilton County Schools.PNG
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Current state law only allows SROs in extreme situations to place handcuffs on students with special needs.

But that could soon change, with a new Tennessee bill giving that power to other law enforcement officers, raising concerns for parents and even the sheriff in Hamilton County.

“A school resource officer, school security officer, or other law enforcement officer who is trained and certified for completing a behavior intervention training program may use a mechanical restraint on a student receiving special education services in an emergency situation.”

That’s what HB0127 reads.

We spoke with Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett who gave an adamant statement, saying he had no plans to train deputies to restrain students with special needs.

"We have no business," says Sheriff Garrett.

This was his response after a local parent brought his attention the new bill allowing school resource security and other law enforcement to use mechanical restraints on students with special needs.

"I would not be happy if my son was placed in handcuffs," says Roddey Coe.

Roddey Coe says his son Ethan, who was born with autism, would be one of many put at risk by the law.

"It just continues to open doors for endangering our kids," says Coe.

The bill was introduced by Hamilton County state Representative Greg Martin. He says he filed after a request from the school district's attorney Scott Bennett.

"I think it’s about protecting people from harming themselves and harming others, certainly, everyone in the legislature would be for protecting children from harming themselves and harming other children," says Rep. Martin.

We reached out to Bennett, who gave us a statement:

"The bill is intended to address an inconsistency in the law regarding who may use mechanical restraints, meaning handcuffs, to secure special education students. As the law stands right now, school resource officers may use mechanical restraints whereas school security officers may not.
This distinction is peculiar, in our opinion, because, at least in Hamilton County, school security officers receive all the training that school resource officers receive plus, starting this spring, they will receive additional training in de-escalation.
This issue came to our attention this past year when an SSO had to respond to an emergency situation. This was one single incident in the 18 months of having SSOs in our schools, but, after consulting with the legal department at the Tennessee Department of Education and the State Board of Education, we felt it was important to clarify the law.
To be clear, restraints of any kind on any student are always a last resort, and employees of HCS are to use restraints only when a student’s safety is at risk. For this reason, Hamilton County Schools has placed greater emphasis on Tier I supports across the district with the aim of reducing violent behaviors and the resulting need for restraints."

Martin says the expansion would give more law enforcement officers the ability to protect other students and teachers.

“I’m bringing this bill to protect our school security officers to be able to help manage behavioral problems," says Rep. Martin.

But some advocates say it's poorly worded.

"The bill is chaotic," says JC Bowman.

Former special education teacher JC Bowman says the bill requires behavioral training for officers, but doesn't say who, where, or how it will be performed.

"It's a little bit vague, and has a lot of holes in it," says Bowman.

And it is a solution to a problem Bowman says rarely happens.

"In seven years of teaching special education, I can't recall ever coming to a situation where they mandated putting a kid in handcuffs," says Bowman.

It's an issue that Coe believes requires behavioral correction, not discipline.

"We have another education bill involving discipline that is reactive. Why is it we can't get good legislation to be proactive?" says Coe.

Depend on us to keep you updated as we learn more.

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