9-year-old Christopher Baker was forced into a ball bag and the drawstring pulled tight by school employees as a way to “to control his autistic behavior”. His mother said she found him squirming inside as a teacher’s aide stood by.
The case has caused outrage amongst advocates for the autistic, even spurring an online petition calling for the firing of school employees responsible.
Approaching his classroom on Dec. 14, Chris’ mother, Sandra Baker, saw the gym bag. There was a small hole at the top and she heard a familiar voice calling out to her.
“He was treated like trash and thrown in the hallway,” Chris’ mother said. It is not known exactly how long he had been in the bag. Baker demanded a teacher’s aide release her son immediately.
“When I got him out of the bag, his poor little eyes were as big as half dollars and he was sweating,” Baker said. “I tried to talk to him and get his side of the reason they put him in there, and he said it was because he wouldn’t do his work.”
The day had barely begun when school officials had called the family to pick Chris up. At a later meeting, Baker was told the boy had smirked at the teacher when he was told to put down a basketball, then threw it across the room.
School officials told Chris’ mother it was not the first time they had put him in what they described as a “therapy bag.” Baker was aware her son would sometimes be asked to roll over a bag filled with balls as a form of therapy, but had no idea her son was being placed in the bag.
Chris is registered in a program for students with special needs at Mercer County Intermediate School in Harrodsburg, central Kentucky.
Mercer County schools Interim Superintendent Dennis Davis was unable to comment on this incident but said in a statement: “The employees of the Mercer County Public Schools are qualified professionals who treat students with respect and dignity while providing a safe and nurturing learning environment.”
Lydia Brown, an autistic 18-year-old Georgetown University freshman from Boston, was one of many people outraged after reading a story about Chris. So far, over 4,000 people have signed a petition Brown started on the website change.org. The petition calls for those responsible to be dismissed from their positions.
“That would not be wrong just for an autistic student. That would be wrong to do to anyone,” Brown said.
Landon Bryce of San Jose, Calif., a former teacher who runs thAutcast.com, a blog for the Aspergers and Autism community, said the school’s handling of Chris was “careless and disrespectful.”
Bryce called for his readership to get in touch with legislators and let them know that better legislation is needed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. Bryce also advised parents to get involved with school board politics to foster a culture that respects the safety and freedom of differently abled students.
“A lot of the damage that we do to students with all kinds of disabilities is by treating them as though they deserve to be treated in a way that’s different from other people,” Bryce said.
While there are no laws on using restraint or seclusion in Kentucky public schools the incident is being investigated by state education officials.