Nearly six years after a 13-year-old boy hanged himself while in solitary confinement at a Gainesville special-needs school, the state school board banned the practice.
On Thursday, the Georgia Board of Education voted to ban "seclusion rooms" like the one Jonathan King was placed in at the Alpine Psychoeducational Program in November 2004.
Jonathan hanged himself with a rope that a school employee gave him to keep his pants up. His parents, Don and Tina King, have attempted to sue the state agency that oversees the school, but their civil rights claim was dismissed by a Hall County judge, and the state Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s decision. After the Georgia Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the family plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wyc Orr, the Gainesville attorney representing the King family, said Thursday he believes Don and Tina King were instrumental in getting the ban passed. The Kings attended several public forums across the state to tell their story prior to the school board’s vote, he said.
"I’m confident that their courage and commitment to expose this odious and dangerous practice has helped to produce change," Orr said. "Jonathan’s death
has at least served to
protect other students from harm and possibly even death."
Orr said Jonathan, who had behavioral problems, was placed in the 8-by-8-foot seclusion room more than half of 29 school days, up to eight hours at a time.
The ban approved by the state board of education also limits the use of certain methods of restraint to calm misbehaving students in the classroom.
Mechanical restraint, most often seen in strapping children to chairs, is now prohibited. The ban also prevents prone restraint, a face-down method that led to the 2005 asphyxiation death of a 13-year-old boy at Cleveland’s Appalachian Wilderness Camp.
Teachers still have some discretion to restrain students, but schools must notify parents if restraint is used.
The vote was the culmination of two years of work drafting new policies for disciplinary tactics and marks the first time the state has addressed the controversial practices.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.