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Special-ed Students Force-fed Cotton Balls Soaked with Vinegar as Form of Discipline

  • Published: 2011-09-28 - Contact: National Autism Association
  • Synopsis: Reports from local parents who say their children attending Exley Elementary school in Katy were force-fed cotton balls soaked with vinegar as a form of discipline.

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National Autism Association (NAA) Says Vinegar-Soaked Cotton Balls in Disabled Students' Mouths Underscores Need for Aversives Ban.

Monday night, in an effort to demonstrate inhumane practices known as "aversives" happening in special-ed classrooms across the county, school district officials in Texas were asked to insert vinegar-soaked cotton balls into their mouths. The request came from advocate and NAA board member Leslie Phillips following multiple reports from local parents who say their children attending Exley Elementary school in Katy were force-fed cotton balls soaked with vinegar as a form of discipline. "There were no takers to the request," said Phillips.

According to parents, Exley students, some of whom are nonverbal, were sometimes forced to get on a classroom treadmill, ostensibly there for exercise breaks and forced to go faster or longer than they wanted. In addition, cotton balls saturated with vinegar were placed into their mouths to control behavior. Parents say they were told certain "procedures" had been used on their children without their knowledge or consent, and the district would address the issue. Exley Elementary School Principal Imelda Medrano used only vague references, saying, "a treadmill was used" and "vinegar was introduced."

Parents Carol and Bill Rutar said they were dumbfounded to learn these strategies were not illegal. "If I were to attempt to force an adult to do something like this, I would be arrested and charged with assault and battery. Further, if this happened to a student in a general education setting, there would be public outrage. It's precisely the type of bullying behavior between students that is the focus of national attention and expressly prohibited," said Carol Rutar.

Parents still await information from the investigation, conducted by the district's own police department who has confirmed the matter has been handed over to the District Attorney.

Aversive interventions tantamount to child abuse are being used in many schools across the country. "Withholding food and water, lemon spray to the eyes, force feeding, sensory exploitation, shaving cream to the mouth, peppers to the mouth - these are just some of the assaults that have been used on schoolchildren as a failed means to control behavior," says Lori McIlwain, executive director of NAA. "Positive behavioral interventions have been proven successful, there is no excuse for aversives in our schools."

Phillips, who spoke with a Texas Education Agency official about the case, was told that while Texas is one of few states that regulates seclusion and restraint in public schools, "... there is no law that says aversive interventions are or are not legal in Texas."

The advocate hopes school principals nationwide will take positive action. "My message to principals is this: if aversive interventions are happening in your schools, you should act to stop it. Positive support training is needed, and law or no law, aversives are abusive and dehumanizing. They should be banned in your school."

For more information, please visit nationalautism.org and autismsafety.org

Related:

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