Prone Restraint

September 4, 2020

You couldn’t miss the striking ‘A Grieving Black Mother’  image Titas Kaphar created for Time Magazine in July.  My heart sank, tears swelled, and I fought myself not to sob when it came to view at the market. 

It brought back all the fatalities I have read about that resulted from prone restraint on victims as young as 9 years old.  It brought back the shattered son I collected from school, and the way he described not being able to breathe, saying through his tears he must be a monster because the principal and vice principal at his school tried to kill him. All these years advocating for a ban on prone restraint, and this void moms continue to have until there is one. The tears just flowed.

What breaks my heart with each new fatality, is how it is the loss of another life over what wasn’t a life-and-death situation.  Floyd was explaining he was claustrophobic and police were trying to force him in their car under suspicion of spending a counterfeit $20.  Max Bensen spat on another student in the midst of a disagreement.  My son was reacting to the teacher not returning his pen, and turning over desks and chairs in an emptied classroom. Do any of these situations indicate a response requiring a use of force?

What connects my son’s traumatic experience with fatalities like Max Bensen and George Floyd, is they all stem from restraint in a prone position.  This restraint requires taking down a person and restraining them on the ground face down.  To keep the restraint, the arms and legs are held, and if done properly, there is no pressure on the torso or spine.  Not so for Max, George or my son. 

Let me explain why prone restraint is fatalistic.  When a person is taken down, it is often when they are already agitated, and their body is breathing shallow.  The beginning of air hunger is there before the restraint.  Then they are forced on their stomach, where organs are compressed into the lungs, furthering the body’s air hunger as inhalation becomes more challenging.  Add to it additional challenges such as pressure on the torso or neck, and the ability to inhale is further reduced so that a person cannot inhale and asphyxiates.  

In a report I read, of the 45 children who died while restrained, 85% of the restraints identifying a cause for the fatality were in prone restraint. Those were children ages 9-18.  

After my son’s prone restraint, as the anger hit me, I began doing what any parent would, and called a few lawyers.  What I heard was, “I am so sorry for your son, but it is perfectly legal.”  Then I found it, the SJUSD policy on Behavioral Interventions for Students With Disabilities.  My son has Autism.

It took three years of writing San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) board members to ban prone restraint in their policy, often retelling my sons’ story with no result before a fellow advocate asked why I hadn’t played the equity card.  When you want something banned, be careful what you ask for.  Playing the equity card, I gave this argument, “to allow a fatalistic restraint in a policy specific to students with disabilities is inequitable!”.  I said it at a SJUSD Town Hall meeting.  The policy was rewritten, and prone restraint was absent.  Last fall, took one email to the Santa Clara County Board of Education to have a ban written into their policy.

Be CAREFUL what you wish for

On August 22, 2019, a new policy, 5141.41 – Use of Seclusion and Restraint was before the San Jose Unified School Board.  Once again, policy allowing the use of prone restraint.  It did not matter that four mothers spoke against the use of restraint in the policy, a letter from Senator Beall to the policy’s author Jodi Lax was against any restraint in our schools, and David Grady from the State Council of Developmental Disabilities asked the board reconsider this policy to provide safer options. The entire board voted it through.   

California Assembly Bill 2657, Article 5.2 Restraint and Seclusion notes Ed Code 49005 that (California) Legislature finds and declares the following: (f) “students with disabilities and students of color, especially African American boys, are disprorportionately subject to restraint and seclusion.”  I will add Senator Beall’s words, “ All California students have a right to be approached with understanding, respect, and a high regard for both their physical safety, as well as their emotional and psychological well-being.”

I think what Senator Beall wrote is appropriate justice for all.

Ask your school districts to revisit the March 4, 2010 “Keeping All Students Safe Act”  when drafting their policies as well as involve the NAACP and Disability Rights in reviewing and advising, and ask for more professional development in de-escalation practices.  Use of restraints that limit the ability to breath, such as the Prone Restraint, need to be banned.  Leverage information on Prone Restraint when writing to your Congress Member or Senator to push for a ban in your own state.   If you are ever collecting moms to speak against the use of prone restraint, call me. (408)221-5545.  And if you need a resolution, I am sharing one I recently wrote.