After three months, five requests and a formal warning, Friends of King Schools has finally provided state officials with most policies and documentation related to a March incident in which a security guard handcuffed a nine-year-old student at one of its schools.

The charter group posted a seclusion and restraint policy to its website on June 22, weeks past the state’s May 26 deadline. The policy appears to have been posted 30 minutes after The Lens inquired about the status of the documents, which the state Department of Education had sought since March.

The state provided the documents to The Lens last month and informed us midday that the documents fulfill its request.*

The morning of March 16, a private security guard handcuffed a fourth-grade boy at Joseph A. Craig Charter School after he threatened to hurt himself, according to an incident report provided by the school to the state.

The boy became upset while waiting for his mother to drop off a permission slip, according to the report. It was written in first-person, but it doesn’t say who wrote it.

“He was pushing the officer, hitting him, and swinging himself into anyone who was near him,” it states. The officer handcuffed the boy until his mother arrived. She calmed him down and took him with her.

“I am very concerned about the use of handcuffs as a restraint mechanism for young students in crisis.”—Kunjan Narechania, Recovery School District

The incident was unsettling for Recovery School District Superintendent Kunjan Narechania. She wrote to school leaders she was “very concerned about the use of handcuffs as a restraint mechanism for young students in crisis.”

State law forbids the use of mechanical restraints on students with disabilities. Students who are suspected of having a disability are to be treated as if they have one until they are evaluated.

The law doesn’t provide guidance for students without disabilities, but all schools are required by law to have guidelines for responding to student behavior.

Neither the state nor the school’s lawyer would say whether the boy has a disability.

It wasn’t the first time this school has caught the state’s attention this year. In January, Craig suspended a boy who school leaders thought was depressed until he saw a psychiatrist. That’s not a legitimate reason to keep a child out of school.

State asks for further information, restraint policies

In her March 21 letter, Narechania requested several policies on how staffers respond to student behavior, documents showing their training on the use of seclusion and restraints, and information about the private security company.

That letter started a months-long back-and-forth in which state education officials reiterated their requests after the charter group provided documents that they said were incomplete or irrelevant.

Narechania asked for an incident report and a list of staff involved. She got the incident report, but not the staff list.

She also asked for the school’s policy on how it encourages proper behavior among students. An attorney for the school, Tracie Washington, provided the school’s policy on detecting disabilities, which isn’t the same thing.

”These policies exist to ensure that the most vulnerable students are treated respectfully and that crisis situations are handled in a way that ensures the safety of all involved.”—Laura Hawkins, Recovery School District

The state issued a formal warning on May 12 after the charter group failed to provide documents showing that Craig had the legally required policies in place. That’s the least serious of three levels of intervention the Recovery School District uses to monitor its charter schools.

In response to a request for proof that school staff had been trained on seclusion and restraint, Washington initially provided an agenda from a 2016-17 board retreat. But it was unclear if staff members were there.

Eventually, the school provided an attendance log from a 2014 Champions of Change staff retreat. The sign-in sheet doesn’t say what those “afternoon sessions” were about.

If the state determines that Friends of King hasn’t provided sufficient documents on restraint and seclusion training, the charter group has until Aug. 31 to train staff.

The state also asked for the charter group’s policies on when and how staff can restrain students or isolate them. The school first provided a document from the security company that outlines how and when its employees are supposed to use force.

“The school did not provide any school- or [charter management organization]-level policies related to seclusion and restraint,” Laura Hawkins, deputy chief of staff for the RSD, wrote on June 20.

“These policies exist to ensure that the most vulnerable students are treated respectfully and that crisis situations are handled in a way that ensures the safety of all involved,” she wrote.

On June 22, The Lens asked Washington and Doris Hicks, the charter group’s CEO, about the policies. The seclusion and restraint policy was uploaded to Friends of King’s website 30 minutes later.

The state received it the next day along with the behavioral support policy it had requested. The school has returned to good standing.*

*Update: The state informed The Lens midday that Craig had satisfied its request for documents and returned to good standing. (July 5, 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...