Chesapeake Schools settle in special needs child restraint lawsuit

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – The Chesapeake School Board has settled a lawsuit brought by the family of a boy with Down syndrome and a history of autism. The lawsuit alleged school personnel strapped him into a chair as a means of behavior control.

Initially, the lawsuit included both the school board and 10 unnamed employees, but the employees were removed, leaving the school board as the only defendant. The two sides reached the agreement Thursday morning in federal court in Norfolk. Judge Henry Morgan sealed the amount of the settlement, and neither party would comment.

The child was identified only by the initials “N.G.” in court documents. His parents sued the Chesapeake School Board, saying he was illegally restrained while at Southeastern Elementary.

Investigative report: Controversial child control

According to the lawsuit, staff at the school used what’s known as a Rifton chair to restrain N.G. The manufacturer says on its website the chair is for children who have body support and posture issues, so they don’t fall out of their chair at school. Rifton’s guidelines specifically warn against using its chair for behavioral restraint.

The lawsuit says Southeastern restrained N.G. for as much as three-quarters of his entire school day. While the amount of the settlement is confidential, documents show the family sued for an amount more than $75,000.

Read the lawsuit

The school board’s attorney told the judge the settlement will not cost Chesapeake taxpayers anything, because the money will come from the board’s insurance company. The money will fund a special needs trust for N.G.

10 On Your Side has investigated the broader controversy of seclusion and restraint for nearly two years. It has led to serious injury and even death in some cases, and child welfare advocates say it’s not effective. It was on the agenda Thursday morning for the state board of education in Richmond.

Special report: Alone and afraid

State educators are developing regulations for using seclusion and restraint. Jamie Liban, Executive Director of ARC of Virginia, told WAVY she was encouraged by the state board’s discussion.  Liban says they are considering limiting the use of seclusion and restraint to cases where a student may cause imminent physical harm to self or others.

The state board is also considering stricter guidelines for letting parents know when their child has been secluded or restrained. The regulation process still has several steps, and final regulations could be in place by the middle of next year.