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Anger over 7-year-old's handcuffing

Cyril Josh Barker | 5/25/2011, 9:23 a.m.

Protesters will speak out this week against the recent handcuffing of a 7-year-old special education student last week at P.S. 153 in Queens. A press conference, scheduled to take place at noon on Thursday, April 28, will be led by City Councilman Charles Barron along with Assemblywoman Inez Barron and the child's parents.

Reports indicate that police handcuffed 7-year-old first grader Joseph Anderson on April 13 after he got upset while working on an Easter art project in class. Anderson is special needs student and his teacher called the police to take him to the hospital after attempts failed to calm him down.

The NYPD has said that Anderson had a pair of scissors in his hands and that handcuffing him was necessary for the safety of the other students in the classroom and himself.

Reports also state that Anderson was threatened with a needle and with being taken to the hospital.

Talking to reporters, schools chancellor Dennis Walcott said that, in certain situations, handcuffing a student may be necessary.

"There are occasions where it may need to be done and I think it's the responsibility of the principal and school safety to work together to make that determination," said Walcott. "But there are opportunities that present themselves where a student may be in danger to him or herself or to other students and those decisions have to be reached."

However, education activists and Anderson's parents say that the school went too far in using handcuffs on a child so young. They are demanding that the Department of Education (DOE) come up with alternatives for disciplining and handling students without treating them like prisoners.

"Our schools are not a part of a police state," Barron said. "The DOE must stop the cruel and emotionally traumatizing practice of handcuffing children. We are calling for the immediate end of this practice and favor the use of non-aggressive human restraint, intervention through counseling and advanced training for staff and safety agents when dealing with special education children and those with behavioral issues."

This is the latest incident of what many critics call the over-policing of public schools. Late last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union reported that a high number of students had been handcuffed by school safety police officers in the city.

In December, the NYCLU went before the City Council's Education, Public Safety and Juvenile Justice Committees urging the council to pass legislation to prevent over-policing of students in public schools. The NYCLU presented reports from public schools students who had been handcuffed and even pepper sprayed while in school by police.

Policing in schools has also become a concern due to the fact that, of the 1,500 school safety police officers in schools, 200 carry guns. NYPD numbers indicate that 943 students were arrested on school ground in 2009.