A parent who says her fifth grade son was violently restrained by a Laveen Elementary School District official last April spoke about the lingering trauma of the incident at a recent district governing board meeting.
The incident, captured on video, took place on April 25 at Vista Del Sur Accelerated Academy.
“The superintendent didn’t come talk to me, didn’t tell me my son was choked and sat on,” said Danielle Jordan during the governing board meeting Thursday.
The incident took place after Jordan’s son was suspended but, because the school failed to communicate his suspension to her, he returned to the school building, she said.
The incident made her wary of bringing her son to school, she said.
“I was weighing protection over education,” Jordan said.
State law allows Arizona schools to use restraint methods that immobilize or reduce the ability of a pupil to move their torso, arms, legs or head freely, but only if the student poses an imminent danger to themselves or others and less restrictive efforts wouldn’t mitigate the potential harm.
Students with disabilities are among the students most likely to experience restraint or seclusion tactics, according to Arizona Center for Disability Law attorney Amanda Glass.
If those tactics are used, she said, they should only be used at the moment when the student is acting as a danger to themselves or others. Beyond that, “it can be used inappropriately as punishment,” which is not the way the law intends for the use of restraint, Glass said.
The school district said they shared surveillance video of the incident with Phoenix police and the family.
In one recording, provided to the organization Black Mothers Forum by the Jordan family and then distributed in a press release, a student is seen coming through a door followed by an adult. The adult can then be seen putting their arm around the student’s neck, seemingly trying to pull the student toward them.
The student pulls away around the corner of a wall, and after a moment, falls to the ground. The adult also moves to the ground, at which point their body is blocking most of the view of the student.
The district called the restraint improper, according to a statement provided by district spokesperson Kristen Landry. The restraint was imposed by a district-level administrator who believed the student was trying to leave campus while being escorted to in-school detention, the statement said.
“It was determined that the actions of restraining the student did not follow district policies,” according to the statement. “Corrective action was taken with the former administrator.”
The district said the former administrator had retired from their position.
In addition, the district said, Phoenix police were immediately called. The student was examined for physical injuries, and none were found, the district statement said.
Prior to the start of this school year, and up until Aug. 16, according to the district, district officials tried repeatedly to meet with the parent through the parent’s attorney and community advocate to seek a resolution. The investigation is ongoing, according to the district.
Following Jordan’s statement to the Laveen governing board on Thursday, board president Jill Barragan said the district superintendent, Jeffrey Sprout, was available to meet with Jordan “tomorrow or as soon as you are ready.”
“I will reiterate: we (will) get through this together,” said Barragan, before ending the meeting.
State schools chief Tom Horne has spoken about the need for school districts to support teachers in using suspension or expulsion when necessary to keep a calm classroom environment. But restraint should be used minimally, his office said in a statement.
“Supt. Horne agrees that this type of behavior toward a student is entirely inappropriate,” a department spokesperson said.
The Arizona Department of Education does not collect data on schools’ use of restraint or seclusion practices.
The statewide lack of data collection, as well as many school districts sharing incident information with individual families but not keeping data at the district level, makes it difficult to know if there are systemic issues with how a school district uses restraint and seclusion, said Glass.
On the individual student level, Glass said she has had families approach her with concerns about how their child experienced a restraint or seclusion practice and struggle to find a clear resolution because there is no formal path for families to raise concerns beyond contacting school officials.
“Arizona has the Department of Child Safety: If a kid comes to school with bruising or scrapes, they (the school) have to report that,” said Glass. “But it doesn’t work the other way.” If a kid comes home with bruises or scrapes, parents can’t call the state on school officials, she said.
Danielle Jordan was supported by the Black Mothers Forum, which issued a statement about the incident and brought supporters out to the board meeting.
The parent group has raised concerns about how Black students are treated in district and charter schools in Arizona. The group, which runs seven microschools, has called for Black parents to pull their children from public schools until there are stronger policies to support Black students.
“We as Black Mothers believe our children should be safe in their learning environments and should never be subjected to being choked by a school district official,” the group said in a statement on the Laveen district incident.
Glass said she would like to see a mechanism that allows parents to file complaints related to restraint and seclusion processes in Arizona schools. It could be modeled on a system that already exists for parents to file complaints about special education services students are due under federal law to the Arizona Department of Education, she said.
“In my perfect world, there would be some kind of state law that would say that parents can file complaints about schools not adhering” to the state law governing restraint and seclusion in Arizona, Glass said.
Yana Kunichoff is a reporter on The Arizona Republic’s K-12 education team. You can join The Republic’s Facebook page and reach Yana at firstname.lastname@example.org.