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When disciplining special education students goes too far

Many California parents and educators were shocked this week when they learned that a very young autistic boy had allegedly been placed in a trash can by a special education teacher employed at an elementary school in Georgia. This teacher was formally charged with child cruelty after she suspended the boy upside down over a trash can and lowered him into it up to his shoulders.

Apparently, the young boy had been screaming and the teacher was frustrated at his inability or refusal to settle down. The teacher then compared the boy to the Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch and insisted that if the boy displayed, “trashy behavior like Oscar, he'd go in the trash can."

Disciplining certain special education students can be challenging. When students have certain behavioral issues, they may scream, behave in potentially hazardous ways and may even become violent. Special education teachers may therefore be placed in a position where they must act quickly in order to ensure the student’s safety and the safety of those around the student. In addition, it remains important to teach children that unacceptable behavior has consequences.

However, special education students are protected by law from disciplinary actions which are, quite simply, humiliating or otherwise unacceptable. If your special education student is ever subjected to disciplinary action that you believe goes “too far,” please do not hesitate to reach out to an attorney experienced in the area of education law. An attorney will be able to advise you of your student’s rights and your legal options.

Source:, “Georgia special education teacher accused of putting autistic student in trash can,” Allie Healy, May 6, 2015

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