Denver school board bans use of handcuffs on elementary school students

3 min. read
Jake DiProfio rests his head on a table at the local library during a tutoring session. (Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat)

By , Chalkbeat 

Campus safety officers employed by the Denver school district will no longer be allowed to use handcuffs on elementary school students, after the school board unanimously passed a resolution Thursday banning the controversial practice.

Handcuffs can still be used on middle and high school students, though the resolution directs Denver Public Schools to significantly decrease the frequency.

"This is a really important experience and step we've taken to be the institution we want to be and be an example," said board member Jennifer Bacon.

A previous version of the resolution that the board considered last month would have allowed the use of handcuffs on fourth- and fifth-grade students who posed a "threat of serious bodily injury to self or others." That exception was removed from the final resolution.

There is still one exception for elementary school students. State law permits handcuffs to be used on students who are openly displaying a deadly weapon, and that would continue to be the case in Denver, even for the district's youngest students.

The school board delayed voting on the resolution last month to solicit feedback from the community, including several parent and student organizations. A group of student leaders who suggested revisions addressed the board at its meeting Thursday.

"Thank you for this resolution," said Jhoni Palmer, a rising senior at East High School, "but it shouldn't take immense heat and pressure from community for this district to do what's right."

The issue rose to prominence in April, when a family went public with the story of their 7-year-old son being handcuffed by a campus safety officer.

Shortly thereafter, Denver Public Schools released data showing its campus safety officers had used handcuffs on students at least 65 times in the past two years. The district did not track the ages of those students, so it's unclear how many were in elementary school. One of the students was Jake DiProfio, a fifth-grader who was handcuffed four times this past year.

Being restrained with handcuffs can have long-lasting emotional and academic consequences for students, and advocates and parents have described incidents in which handcuffs were used to control children rather than to respond to criminal activity.

In addition to banning the use of handcuffs on elementary school students, the resolution directs the district to:

  • Publicly report disaggregated data on the use of handcuffs on students
  • Review every incident of handcuffing a student, regardless of whether the student's family files a complaint, which was previously what prompted a review
  • Add five more days of training per year for the district's more than 100 campus safety officers, who can currently start work with as little as 4 ½ weeks of training.

The training would touch on topics such as non-violent crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques, anti-bias and non-discrimination practices, and what constitutes an emergency and which "less restrictive alternatives" could be used in such situations, according to the resolution.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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