School interventions can be deadly

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Xavier Hernandez rushed toward the door of his classroom — an escape he had attempted multiple times.

To keep Hernandez from running away or hurting himself or others, Boulevard Heights School and Transition Center staff did what they had done frequently before. They grabbed the 204 pound, 21-year-old student with autism, brought him to the floor and held him still, school and police records show.

At one point, a staff member said the student’s position was “a little awkward” and asked staff to readjust Hernandez, according to school records. Another staff member said he used his knee to hold down Hernandez’s hip as the student tried to move. Hernandez said he was calm, but staff said he was still resisting.

“I hurt,” Hernandez said during the restraint.

Eventually, staff at the public school for students with special needs in Fort Worth noticed Hernandez’ breathing had slowed.

Then he began “gurgling.” His lips changed colors. He lost consciousness. They called 911.

Hours later on March 1, 2021, Hernandez — a bright, curious, electronics-obsessed young man — was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Records provide varying accounts. They state that several staff members, as many as seven, had held Hernandez down at the school for anywhere from under five to 12 minutes.

What is consistent, by all accounts, Hernandez was held face-down. A Texas Education Agency spokesman said that position is prohibited by state law; it is considered to be particularly dangerous because it can restrict breathing.

The school district’s law firm found no wrongdoing by staff, saying they had been trained and used proper techniques. The firm called Hernandez’ death “a tragic accident.” No criminal charges have been filed against anyone regarding the incident.

TEA, which enforces the state’s prone restraint ban, said in late September it was still investigating the incident and declined to comment further.

As investigations continue, Hernandez’ aunt, Ebonie Baltimore, said she wants justice for her nephew.

“I feel as if they killed him — there’s no other way to describe it,” she said in an interview with Hearst Newspapers.

Though they seldom result in death, restraints happen tens of thousands of times each year in public schools statewide, data show. Students, often those with disabilities, are physically held by staff members, pinned to the ground or bound by mechanical devices. The interventions sometimes cause injuries and emotional trauma.

Advocacy organization Disability Rights Texas said the state’s laws and regulation around the use of restraint in schools has other shortcomings.

For example, TEA only reviews data on the use of restraint — that school systems are required to submit — minimally once every six years. This “desk review” process involves TEA staff checking paperwork schools filed but that documentation — though it has some details about the nature of the restraint — can be filled out by someone involved in the restraint, allowing for potential bias, according to Disability Rights Texas.

Read the full article, School interventions can be deadly, on the San Antonio Express News website.