Parents Sue School for Son’s Suicide

December 22, 2008 11:58 AM
by Shannon Firth
The parents of Jonathan King, a boy who hanged himself in a seclusion room used for time-outs, are suing the school he attended.

Boy Committed Suicide in Seclusion Room

In 2004, 13-year-old Jonathan King committed suicide in a seclusion room at his school in Gainesville, Ga. His parents, Don and Tina King, are suing the Alpine Program, an alternative school for children with behavioral problems, for wrongful death.

Although Jonathan’s parents were aware that children were given time-outs at school, as Tina King told CNN, "We thought that meant go sit in the corner and be quiet for a few minutes." Jonathan hanged himself with a cord given to him by a teacher to keep his pants up.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jonathan, who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 5, had been in and out of the Alpine Program three times since kindergarten. In his last two months, he was placed in seclusion 19 times, according to court reports. Usually his time-outs lasted 25 minutes or less, but twice he was held in seclusion for more than seven hours.

Phil Hartley, the lawyer representing Alpine, said that Georgia has no laws concerning the use of seclusion rooms and that under state law, the school cannot be held responsible for the actions of its students. He added that, though Jonathan had mentioned suicide numerous times, he told teachers he was joking.

Although teachers described Jonathan as physically aggressive toward other students, Don King told CNN, "He was a hugger, liked to go fishing with me and run after me saying, 'Daddy, when are we going to the lake?'"

Jane Hudson, an attorney with the National Disability Rights Network, told CNN that Jonathan’s case should be viewed as a warning. Last year, Clemson University researchers found that only a handful of states had established laws regarding seclusion rooms but 24 states had written guidelines. Texas has banned the rooms entirely, while Georgia has only recently started drafting seclusion room policies.

Leslie Morrison is a psychiatric nurse and attorney who led a 2007 investigation that uncovered six cases of abuse involving seclusion in schools. "What we found outrageous was that we went to the schools and asked to see the rooms and were denied,” Morrison told CNN. CNN’s requests to visit several schools’ seclusion rooms were also denied.

Opinion & Analysis: Seclusion rooms

Writing on his political blog The Reaction, Michael J.W. Stickings was disgusted by the story of Jonathan’s treatment and subsequent suicide. Stickings wrote, “Is this seriously how special-needs children ought to be treated? By being thrown into isolation? It makes you wonder how civilized our civilization really is.”

Jeff Sharpless, a man who worked in residential treatment centers as a social worker for more than seven years, commented on the blog, Kreuzer’s Korner, “I am not defending seclusion rooms but it is sadly necessary for violent children with severe mental health problems.” However, Sharpless also added, “After my time in ‘treatment’ centers I would rather dig ditches. I advise any parent to avoid it if they can.”

Related Topic: “Restraint & Seclusion in California Schools”

A 2007 report from Protection & Advocacy, Inc. on the use of restraint and seclusion in California schools gave the state a failing grade. According to the summary, “School personnel applied restraint and seclusion techniques that are expressly prohibited and employed emergency interventions in situations that did not pose an imminent risk of harm.”

Historical Context: Restraint death database

For five months, the Hartford Courant investigated concerns over seclusion and restraint practices in psychiatric hospitals, group homes, centers for troubled youth and “retardation centers” throughout the country. From their research, they compiled a database of 142 deaths caused by such practices from 1988 to 1998.

Reference: Learning disabilities; ADHD

Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney and many other great leaders and creative thinkers struggled with learning disabilities, but overcame them. To learn more, read findingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Learning Disabilities.

For more information on ADHD, including diagnosis, support and treatment information for children and adults, see findingDulcinea's Web Guide to ADHD.

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