13 Investigates: Duct tape incident prompts call for change in state law
The workers who duct taped shoes on a special needs student in Wayne Township are now on mandatory leave as the investigation moves forward.
13 Investigates uncovered why restraints can be used in Indiana without parents knowing about it, and it's prompting a call for a change in state law.
Elizabeth Searcy pulled a wad of used tape out of a plastic baggie. "This is all the tape that was on my daughter's shoe, shoes," she explained, holding up the evidence of the tape that has sparked a public outcry.
On Monday, her eight-year-old daughter Shalyn Searcy, who has Down Syndrome, refused to put on her shoes at school, something that has become a daily battle. But her parents never expected to see her feet and ankles wrapped in layers of duct tape, squeezed so tight that Shaylyn couldn't walk.
Staff members at Westlake Elementary in Wayne Township then put the child in a restraint chair, rolled her out to her bus and sent her home. No one called her parents to inform them that anything had gone wrong.
"I was just speechless when I seen it," said her father, Nate, who had to carry his daughter from the bus.
Now for the first time, with her parents' approval, Shaylyn shares what happened in school.
She speaks in her own words, with some verbal limitations. 13 Investigates only edited out her pauses.
"Tape on my feet. Hurt me... two duct tapes... my feet...happen at class," Shaylyn began. As she grew comfortable during the visit, she surprisingly offered more detail about her feelings.
"I was really mad," she said pointedly.
"You were really mad? Why?," asked 13 Investigates reporter Sandra Chapman.
"Because, right here," said Shaylyn pointing to her foot.
"You couldn't walk? asked Chapman.
"Yeah," she said. "Him (pointing to her dad) picked me... me up. So I could walk more," she explained.
Shaylyn said she wants to go back to school, but not to the same practices she left at Westlake.
"No tape!" she said emphatically, as her mom repeated her words.
"No, don't touch me. Right... that's bad?" she said, looking to her mom for approval.
"Yep. No tape. Don't touch me," repeated Elizabeth Searcy.
Shaylyn Searcy's story is just one of many making headlines across the country. Special needs students with challenging behaviors have been pinned down, tied up, even stuffed in a duffle bag by educators trying to regain control after student meltdowns.
13 Investigates has discovered there is no federal requirement when it comes to restraint and seclusion policies at school. 18 states nationwide have adopted their own.
"I think a lot of states did decide that there were horrible things happening to students and that something needed to be done," said Kim Dodson, Associate Executive Director of the Arc of Indiana.
Indiana, however, is one of the "have nots." 13 Investigates sent surveys to more than 40 school districts in Indianapolis and the surrounding counties
Nearly a third responded with policies allowing restraint and seclusion as a last resort. The districts with policies include Zionsville Community, Carmel Clay, Hamilton Heights, Mt. Vernon, Center Grove, Franklin Township, Lawrence Township, Speedway, Martinsville, Mooresville, Southwestern Consolidated and Wayne Township, where Shaylyn was a student. But notification requirements vary from district to district statewide.
The Autism Society of Indiana says that means children could be suffering at school and their parents never know about it.
"We don't know how often this happens right now because there is no policy," said Dana Renay, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Indiana.
"It is sad. It is sad," added Nicole Hicks, who understands the issue personally.
Her frustration prompted testimony before Indiana lawmakers urging them to support Senate Bill 345, sponsored by Senator Randy Head.
Senate Bill 345 would require all schools in Indiana to develop a policy on the use of restraint and seclusion, and includes training for teachers and notification for parents. Without it, advocates say teachers and children are at risk.
"I believe whatever physical restraint they used broke my son," Hicks said, as a hush fell over the Senate chambers.
Hicks said she didn't know anything about the meltdown her son Josh had on the first day of 4th grade. She said he simply hid underneath his desk, something he usually does when he gets overwhelmed. Instead of coaxing him out, Hicks said the School Action Team got physical.
She didn't find out about it until a week later and after several other incidents.
"When I got to the school, my son was in complete distress. He was hiding in a fetal position under a bean bag chair in a resource room and he would not talk to me. We found bruises on his arms. The next day, he reported to me that someone had sat on him and held him down," she testified.
Moms like Nicole Hicks and Elizabeth Searcy say the actions are nothing short of criminal. But in the case of a Perry Township teacher who strapped a student to a restraint chair and tipped the chair back, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled the teacher did nothing wrong.
Perry Township did respond to the 13 Investigates survey, but does not have a policy of its own. The district says it follows guidelines set up by Southside Special Services of Marion County.
Senator Randy Head understands right now theirs is nothing in Indiana law that specifically makes it a violation to restrain children at school. But he thinks his bill would begin to address what's acceptable and what's not.
"Absolutely. It would make it a lot different," he told 13 Investigates.
Specifically it would require districts use and follow a restraint policy. But it's unclear if it would address the duct tape issue with Shaylyn. Shaylyn's mother says she can only hope.
"I happy now," Shaylyn told 13 Investigates as she played at home.
"Well, I'm glad your happy," Chapman responded.
Shaylyn looked up with a smile. "Thank you," she said.
Restraint is just half of the issue. Shaylyn's father says he would like to see cameras in special needs classrooms.
13 Investigates contacted dozens of school districts in central Indiana to ask about their restraint and seclusion policy. Below you will find links to some of their responses and policies.