The state Department of Education is looking into Joseph A. Craig Charter School’s use of handcuffs to restrain a fourth grader.

On March 16, a private security guard handcuffed the nine-year-old boy, who a security firm said was threatening to harm himself and others. WDSU first reported the incident.

Five days after it happened, Recovery School District Superintendent Kunjan Narechania wrote to school leaders, “I am very concerned about the use of handcuffs as a restraint mechanism for young students in crisis.”

She asked to meet with school officials and requested copies of school policies on restraints and related matters.

State law forbids the use of mechanical restraints for students with disabilities, though it doesn’t address it for kids without disabilities.

The incident happened a month and a half after the school suspended a student, whom school leaders believed was depressed, until he had seen a psychiatrist. That violated state law, according to the education department.

In the second incident, WDSU reported the nine-year-old refused to go into the school because he was waiting for his mother to drop something off. He was handcuffed after he became violent and threatened to kill himself, a spokeswoman for the security company told WDSU.

The school called the New Orleans Police Department’s crisis unit, which deals with mental-health situations like this. The boy’s mother showed up first, however, and she said she would take her son somewhere, said Dawne Massey, a spokeswoman for the department.

The mother reported the incident to the Recovery School District. The father later told WDSU that his son was traumatized by what happened.

The state education department has asked Friends of King Schools, the nonprofit organization that runs Craig, to provide information on the school and the security firm’s use of seclusion and restraints.

Monday, a state Department of Education lawyer reiterated the request, including the school’s “Force Continuum” document, which describes when and how employees can use force, and documents related to security training.

Friends of King Schools has not yet provided those documents to the state, Deputy Chief of Staff Laura Hawkins said Thursday.

Tracie Washington, an attorney for the charter group, provided The Lens with a document describing when and how the private security firm uses force.

It says handcuffs “should only be used on a person who exhibits aggression, poses a real threat or where flight is a real possibility.”

The document incorrectly states that there are “no state statute or regulations addressing seclusion and restraint.”

The company, Security Experts and Leaders, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The use of handcuffs could be considered a form of corporal punishment. The Orleans Parish School Board, which doesn’t allow corporal punishment, sees it that way if handcuffs are used by someone who’s not certified on how to properly restrain people.

Craig, however, falls under Recovery School District, which allows charters to set their own discipline policies.

Craig doesn’t practice corporal punishment, Washington said. “It’s barbaric,” she said.

Washington said she didn’t know if the security guard is certified to handle crisis situations.

This story was updated after publication to clarify when and how the Recovery School District learned about the incident. (April 6, 2017)

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...