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SC elementary student with special needs handcuffed by police, activists say

A community group says she was unfairly treated. Police said she hurt other children.
Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT
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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A 9-year-old student at Springdale Elementary School was handcuffed by police after the school’s principal called officers saying she was having a “temper tantrum,” a community group says.

Police said the student is accused of attacking other students on a school bus and they claim she was handcuffed “for her safety and the safety of nearby staff members.”

This happened after school let out on May 12, police and the district confirmed Thursday.

No information was shared with the media until One Common Cause, a community group, brought attention to the incident.

The group says the child has special needs -- a detail not shared by police.

One Common Cause, as well as Black Lives Matter South Carolina, EmpowerSC, The Racial Justice Network and the South Carolina Black Activist Coalition, held a press conference Friday morning at the headquarters for Lexington Two “to shed light on this and similar situations.”

Police said the school resource officer (SRO) was called when the bus returned to the school because a child was attacking other students.

When the SRO got on the bus, he said several students were hurt and some were crying.

The officer said the student who attacked the other kids was “going after another child” when he got on the bus. The SRO helped get other students off the bus through the rear emergency door as staff tried to calm down the girl accused of attacking others.

Two students were sent to the nurse’s office for scratches on their faces and head injuries, police said.

As staff worked to calm down the child, she bit a teacher and punched a bus window several times, officers said.

The SRO and staff were able to get the child off the bus and took her to the office to wait on a parent. Once in the office, police said the student “began to hit windows, pull down photos and attempted to leave the school.”

When a staff member tried to block the child from leaving, the student pulled the staff member’s hair so tightly the adult could not break free, officers said.

That’s when the SRO put handcuffs on the student, officers said.

Police said the student was handcuffed in front of her body. The SRO said she calmed down and the handcuffs were “immediately removed.”

One Common Cause said this is an example of “how young students of color are disproportionately targeted and punished by SROs.” The group said the student is Black.

They said four Springdale officers, including the police chief, responded to the incident. The police department only mentioned the SRO in its report.

“Handcuffing children is never OK,” Jerome Bowers, CEO of One Common Cause, said. “Using the police to discipline students, especially children with special needs, is inappropriate and unacceptable.”

Springdale Police gave the following statement:

“We do not make it a common practice to handcuff an elementary-age student, but due to the extenuating circumstance, it was necessary to keep the student, staff and the other students safe.”

The Lexington Two School District said it is conducting its own investigation and cooperating with local law enforcement.

“Every child, regardless of race, gender, or other status, is deserving of a safe and secure learning environment,” spokeswoman Dawn Kujawa said. “Any Lexington Two families or students with questions about student safety are encouraged to talk with their local school administrators.”

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