INDIANAPOLIS - The struggles are not new to families of children with disabilities, nor are the troubling stories that have made headlines - children improperly restrained in chairs, confined in "safe rooms," or even struck by school employees.
But what Nate and Elizabeth Searcy found when their 8-year-old daughter returned from school Monday sent shockwaves well beyond their Westside Indianapolis home. Shaylyn, who has Down syndrome, had her socks bound tightly to her shoes with duct tape in her classroom at Westlake Elementary School in Wayne Township, Ind.
"It's an outrage," said Kim Dodson, associate executive director of Arc of Indiana, a special-needs advocacy group. What happened to Shaylyn, she said, is something that could happen to any special-needs child in Indiana - one of 20 states that have no laws protecting them from the misuse of "seclusion and restraint" policies in schools.
"I think that it is time for the state of Indiana to do something to require all school corporations to have some type of policy on record," Dodson said Tuesday.
The incident is the latest of several in Indianapolis-area schools during the past four years, including a mother's complaint about her 9-year-old son being locked in a small "safe room" in a Pike Township school in November.
Shaylyn Searcy's parents said she could not even stand up and walk down the aisle of her school bus when she returned home Monday.
"She said, 'I can't. It hurts.' So we had to carry her off the bus," said Elizabeth Searcy, 29.
"She had duct tape all the way from her feet up around the tops of her ankles. And it was industrial duct tape. It literally pulled fabric off her socks and vinyl off her shoes, it was so strong."
Searcy said her daughter sometimes refuses to put on her shoes, and speculates that is why someone used duct tape in this case.
"They have called me about it before," Searcy said. "I don't know why they couldn't have called me again this time."
The Searcys returned to the school, Elizabeth Searcy said, and sought help removing the duct tape. That took 30 minutes.
The tape caused bruising on Shaylyn's ankles, Searcy said.
Searcy said this was the first year Shaylyn and her brother Riley, 6, were at Westlake Elementary School. The children previously went to another Wayne Township school, Bridgeport Elementary, but needed to change schools after moving last year.
Searcy said Shaylyn is not going back to Westlake, and they've made special arrangements to have her return to Bridgeport on Thursday. Nate Searcy said they are also speaking with children's advocacy groups about the incident.
Wayne Township released a statement Tuesday saying they are conducting an investigation and have notified the Indiana Department of Child Services.
"If warranted, we will file a report with the agency," the statement read.
"We have also involved our own law enforcement officers in the investigation. When the investigation into this incident is concluded, we will take appropriate action."
Wayne Township School Board President Stan Ellis said Tuesday that board members are not commenting on this incident.
Advocates like Dodson said incidents like these are the result of fundamental problems that need to be fixed at the state level. Only 16 states have statutes that limit the use of restraint to emergencies involving immediate risk of harm, according to an April 2012 report published by the Autism National Committee.
While there are no official statutes in Indiana, there are still recommendations.
Those guidelines stem from a 2009 order issued by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that all states review their policies and guidelines about the use of seclusion and restraint, and allow for physical restraint if a student is posing a physical risk.
"Some schools do a really nice job with it," Dodson said. "Some schools don't do a nice job with it.
"And some schools do nothing."
Some Indiana legislators are trying to create a law that would address the issue. A Senate bill that would require local school boards to approve policies on seclusion and restraints is up for a committee vote next week.
Indiana Sen. Randy Head, a Republican from Logansport who wrote the bill, said that if passed, the bill would require schools to provide training for school personnel, outline a protocol for notifying parents about when seclusion or restraint are used and create standardized definitions for common seclusion and restraint measures. Head did not know how differently the Searcys' case would have been handled had his bill been in effect.
"Other states have thought about this problem and addressed it and kept laws on the books," he said. "They've come up with solutions that haven't been too unwieldy, and haven't had any consequences."
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