Settlement reached after repeated claims of autistic student being restrained

An Oakland family said their autistic son was discriminated against when he was subject to multiple restraints and seclusion at a school in Concord that caters to children with autism.

Bonnie Candell of Oakland said her son Stuart attended Anova Center for Education in Concord from April 2013 to February 2014 when he was nine. In a report released by the U.S. Department of Education in June, the autistic boy was found to have been restrained face down 92 times over an 11 month period for more than 2200 minutes.

“They held me down a lot like even when I did small things like disrupting the class,” Stuart Candell said.

The boy, who is now 12, was placed under prone restraints. He said two to three people would hold his body on ground, face down, multiple times a day. The average duration in which he was restrained was 29 minutes for his behavioral issues.

“Every time it happened it seemed like it was longer and longer till eventually they took me into a separate room for it,” he said.

The report said two staff members would restrain the boy in a secluded room 12 feet by 10 feet. The room had no windows that let in natural light. A third staff member sat outside the room and timed the restraint.

Staff told the U.S. Department of Education they used prone restraint on the boy when he would disrupt class. His behavior would escalate to hitting, biting, and rapping his legs around staff when he was removed from the classroom. Staff would not release the boy from a hold until he remained calm.

“We told them somethings not right, this isn’t working,” Bonnie Candell said. “They said, ‘It’s going to have to get worse before it gets better’.”

Candell said her son spent more time out of the classroom being restrained or secluded to do his work.

According to the report, the boy was restrained on his first day at Anova on April 9, 2013 on two separate occasions for a total of 14 minutes. On his last day, February 27, 2014, Candell was in and out of prone restraint seven times for a total of 107 minutes. During his time at Anova, he was restrained for a number of reasons, including running into a classroom screaming after stepping in dog droppings, throwing a chair, and expressing frustration over a card game.

“You have to sometimes take a leap of faith and hope people know what they’re doing and they just didn’t I guess,” Candell said of the staff at Anova.

Candell said she removed her son from the school when she heard her son’s screams from the school parking lot. She sought representation from Disability Rights California which is fights to remove restraint and seclusion from all schools.

She and Disability Right California filed a federal claim against the Oakland Unified School District, since the district referred her son to Anova. In a recent settlement, the Oakland Unified School District must no longer contract with schools that use prone restraint and offer special training for schools that serve special needs children. OUSD no longer has any students at the Concord campus.

OUSD released the following statement to KTVU:

It is Oakland Unified School District's (OUSD) highest priority to provide safe learning environments for all students. After collaborating directly with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), OUSD arrived at a resolution agreement with the OCR in June 2016. OUSD is actively complying with the terms of the resolution, which OUSD and OCR believe will positively impact OUSD's students with special needs who are placed in non-public schools.

“I feel very proud and I feel hopeful this is going to change for other children,” Candell said.

Stuart said he is also proud to raise awareness about prone restraint in schools.

“I am very glad that I’m making a difference,” he said.

Calls to the Anova Center for Education in Concord were not immediately returned.

More information on the settlement is available here.