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8-year-old boy handcuffed at school after emotional outburst

In Temple, Texas, the Belton Independent School District’s Pirtle Elementary School made news recently for an incident they’d likely rather forget. After an attempt to calm an out-of-control second grader failed, the police were called and the student was restrained in handcuffs.

Belton ISD superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon has since apologized, stating it is not typically district practice to call the police on unruly elementary students. The boy reportedly was having an emotional crisis. He is alleged to have thrown chairs and struck staff members and was inconsolable during that time.

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The officer and staff were concerned the student might have harmed either himself or someone else, so he was placed in restraints until a parent arrived in order to protect him and others. The district is looking into the incident and working with the Belton ISD in order to figure out what might be the best way to deal with students facing a similar emotional crisis.

Unfortunately, we are living in a time where a police presence and school security are sometimes necessary precautions taken by many schools. The question is how much and when we need police in our schools. Though it is unclear whether the officer in question in this story was an actual school resource officer (SRO), there are thousands of SROs stationed in schools throughout America. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in the 2013–14 academic year there were 46,000 full-time and 36,000 part-time officers working in the school systems in America.

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Early interactions between police and children can be impactful not only when it comes to a child’s immediate health and safety but in setting the tone for his or her relationship with law enforcement officials for life. As parents, it’s our job to understand the policies of our children’s individual schools, how discipline might be carried out in a potential behavioral incident and at what point police would become involved.

This case in Texas is not the first time a child has been handcuffed in school, and there are many experts who believe handcuffing children is not only traumatic but in some cases illegal. These incidents raise questions as to whether episodes that might have previously been handled by the school’s regular staff are being blown out of proportion and, as a result, causing semi-traumatic experiences for children. Ultimately, the question arises if there is ever a case in which a child should be handcuffed.

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One would assume the outburst of a second grader might be easily contained, and we have to wonder how this situation escalated so much in the first place. As parents, we want our children to be safe in school (and always, obviously), and we need to work with educators to understand how the policies in place support kids’ safety and well-being.

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