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“I can’t breathe” happens at Illinois schools, too

Friday, Jul 10, 2020

* Jennifer Smith Richards of the Chicago Tribune and Jodi S. Cohen of ProPublica Illinois

A 16-year-old boy in Kalamazoo, Michigan, died this spring after workers pinned him to the floor at the residential facility where he lived — after he’d thrown a sandwich at lunch. While held on the ground, he told them: “I can’t breathe.”

At least 70 people have died in law enforcement custody in the last decade after saying the words “I can’t breathe,” a recent New York Times investigation found. But just as adults have died after being restrained, so have children.

And though we encountered no fatalities, we also repeatedly saw those words among the 50,000 pages of school incident reports on restraint and seclusion that we reviewed for The Quiet Rooms investigation, published last year. School workers documented they had restrained a child in a face-down, or prone, position and the student pleaded to be let up, saying he or she couldn’t breathe. […]

The Quiet Rooms investigation, published by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois, found that in 100 public school districts, children were physically restrained more than 15,000 times between August 2017 and December 2018.

School employees often took detailed notes on these incidents; they wrote down that students said “I can’t breathe” while being restrained at least 30 times over the time period we investigated, according to our analysis of the records. It likely happened more often than that, as we didn’t track every incident in which it was noted that students had trouble breathing.

We found that in about 1,800 of the restraint incidents we logged, school workers used face-down restraints, which at least 31 other states have banned at schools.

* They then provided three examples. Here’s one of them

At the Southwest Cook County Cooperative for Special Education in Oak Forest in August 2018, a boy who refused to finish his classwork and kept repeating “I want to die” was sent to a seclusion room.

He tried to get out of the padded room by throwing himself against the door. Workers then restrained him because he did not “get his body under control,” according to the incident records.

“Oh my God, I can’t breathe, ow. God, I swear to God you broke my right arm,” school employees recorded him saying.

The school has since stopped using prone restraint, the executive director, Gineen O’Neil, said.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

1 Comment
  1. - Shytown - Friday, Jul 10, 20 @ 3:24 pm:

    This is a repulsive set of practices used against special needs children across this state and the country. If people knew how pervasive this is they’d be sick. It’s time to end face down restraints in Illinois.


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