Zakhquery Price is an eleven year old special needs fifth grader in Arkansas. Despite his disability and struggles in school, the district ignored repeated efforts from Zakh’s grandmother, legal guardian, to obtain IEP supports to improve his educational options and manage his behavioral difficulties.
During a typical school day in October, Zakh had a behavioral tantrum in class. It has been reported that while after the tantrum subsided, he was cornered and “taken down” by school staff in an unspecified restraint technique when he refused to comply with their demands. Zakh fought back. During the struggle the school principal was kicked and the teacher pushed. Neither suffered serious injuries.
For most, this story sounds like a special education intervention gone awry. When things like this happen, it is usual policy to for school administration to call an immediate IEP meeting, where an emergency Behavior Support Plan is created and plans for an in depth Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) are made.
However, instead of a supportive intervention, the police were called and school staff filed felony charges against Zakh, an autistic child.
While this story takes place in Arkansas, there are many of such cases in our own Western Pennsylvania region. Special needs children, especially those on the Autism and Mental Health spectrum, appear to be the main targets of Zero Tolerance policy.
1A zero-tolerance policy is a policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances. The term may be used in general or with reference to a particular category of transgressions, e.g. a zero-tolerance policy against alcohol use. In schools, common zero-tolerance policies concern possession or use of drugs or weapons.
However, more and more these polices are being used for infractions as simple as defiance, talking back, and temper tantrums. Children as young as five years old have been referred to police, taken away from school in handcuffs and referred to the juvenile or criminal justice system.
The ACLU has identified this practice as the School to Prison Pipeline,a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services.
Several school districts in Western Pennsylvania have begun to adopt this type of response to children with behavioral challenges.
More so, rather than implementing proactive school wide positive behavior supports, the opposite seems to be happening. In 2008, Hermitage School District in Mercer County added a police officer to its daily staff. Hermitage is a suburban school district that has little problem with violence. Yet, to date, Hermitage has not adopted any school wide positive behavioral support programs.
I will be starting a series on Zero Tolerance and its abusive practices in Western PA schools. If you have a story to tell, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For now, we wait with bated breath to see what will become of poor Zakhquery Price. More information on his case can be found at the following websites:
The Zakh Appeal
The Official Facebook Page
The Autism Womens Network
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)