The new head of the nation's largest school district said Thursday he would look into the case of a 7-year-old special needs boy who was handcuffed by police after he became violent while working on an Easter art project and threatened teachers with scissors.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, speaking to reporters after an event to showcase public service projects, said there are occasions when students may need to be restrained and it's up to school officials and safety officers to decide.
"There are opportunities that present themselves where a student may be in danger to either him or herself or to other students," he said.
First-grader Joseph Anderson became upset last week at his Queens elementary school because his art project, Easter egg painting, didn't look the way he wanted. Department of Education officials said the school tried to defuse the situation and then called police when there was a concern the boy would harm himself or others. Police said he was violent and threatening, biting and spitting, and officers restrained him and took him to a hospital for evaluation.
The boy's mother, Jessica Anderson, said he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, delayed speech and emotional problems. She said she is upset that he was taken to a hospital in handcuffs even though she said she was on her way to get him, and she told the Daily News he was traumatized by what happened.
"If he hears an ambulance, he runs under the bed and screams, `They're going to get me,'" she told the newspaper.
Walcott spoke to Anderson on Thursday, a day after the Daily News first published the report on her son. He said he would look into the matter and make sure he's satisfied with the answer.
"We have many incidents that take place without handcuffs being used, and there are other means to engage, and so people do not make this decision lightly," he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Walcott to head the city's 1.1 million-student school system on April 7, after publishing executive Cathie Black resigned following a brief and tumultuous tenure.
The issue of handcuffing students has gotten increasing interest in the courts in recent years.
The city was sued this month after a 10-year-old girl involved in a classroom fight was taken from her school in handcuffs. The Bronx girl claimed she was interrogated at a police station last April until she was released into her mother's care three hours later.
The police department disputed some of her claims, saying she wasn't interrogated and was in custody for just over an hour and a half.
But the girl's lawsuit recalled similar complaints made when a 12-year-old Queens girl was led from her school in handcuffs last year after she doodled on her desk with an erasable marker and when a 5-year-old Queens boy was handcuffed in 2008 by a school safety agent and was taken to a hospital's psychiatric ward after he threw a tantrum, knocking things off a desk in a principal's office. Both of those cases also resulted in lawsuits.
The recurring issue led the New York Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn last year challenging the practices of the police department's school safety division. Among the allegations was that police arrest students for minor violations of school rules that aren't criminal activity.
Information from: Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com