Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Failing Zakhqurey Price

Dear Readers,

Chances are you don’t know who Zakhqurey Price is or why it matters to you that this 11 year old boy was charged with a felony. And most likely, if you did see his name fly by as you scanned Facebook while drinking your morning coffee, the words “autism” “injured teacher” and “felony” alluded to a story that was disconcerting but not applicable enough to your own life to garner any further investigation. Besides, a lost virtual cow needed you now. If Zakhqurey Price was real news--important news--you’d catch it on your favorite newsmedia outlet, right?

Wrong. Although barraged by information and leads, larger media has yet to tackle Zakhqurey’s troubling story. This isn’t surprising since abusing children with disabilities is tolerated and justified by the general public. If you don’t believe me, peruse the online comments of the relatively few local and national stories dealing with the abuse of students with disabilities. If you need more evidence, take a look at the recently introduced federal legislation that is aimed at protecting school children from being involuntarily locked in rooms and restricted from moving. Yes, as evident by hundreds of stories of the misuse and abuse of seclusion rooms and restraint procedures in our public schools, we need a federal law to keep public schools from locking children with disabilities up in padded rooms, strapping them down in chairs, and pinning them onto the ground until they are no longer able to breathe.

I know where your mind is going now, at least if you are the general public. It’s the same place that will quietly beckon you once you read Zakhqurey’s story: These kids are dangerous. These practices are needed to keep everyone safe. Teachers shouldn’t have to put up with these kids. It’s a sad situation all around, but these kids aren’t my problem. And with these beliefs also come the less obvious but no less common opinions: Children with disabilities don’t belong in public schools. They aren’t capable of learning. These kids are a drain on the system.

Wrong again. Unfortunately children with disabilities, children like Zakhqurey Price, are all too often not given a chance to achieve their potential. They are instead intentionally set up to fail. These children are denied evaluations and refused adequate services, support, and accommodations. And when these children reach crisis after repeated systemic failure, unsafe methods such as seclusion and restraint are used as a first line intervention rather than as a last resort. As what happened in Zakhqurey’s case, these methods often escalate already distraught situations as children respond out of desperation, fear, and confusion. And finally, the “fight or flight” reactions of these frightened children then “justify” the schools’ responses of dangerous physical interventions in the name of treatment and/or safety. This perpetual cycle of failure and abuse at a minimum leaves children traumatized but also leads to injury, arrest, or death.

Unfortunately, Zakhqurey Price’s story does not end with the abuse of seclusion and restraint methods, but continues with unrelenting systemic failure and abuse. So what happens now? Will you tend to your virtual farm or will you instead pay attention to Zakhqurey Price, realizing that his story is happening everyday in our own backyards? We could stop this abuse from happening especially if we just took the time to notice it.

Ange Hemmer