Vinegar laden cotton balls shoved into the mouths of babes among disciplinary methods used in many Texas schools. Photo via Flickr Commons.
Children at a Texas Elementary School allegedly had cotton balls soaked in vinegar put into their mouths and were forced to go on a treadmill longer and faster than they wanted to as a form of discipline. The children being disciplined suffer from autism.
Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disablility, which impacts the normal development of the brain, making it hard for children to interact with others and communicate either verbally or non-verbally. Diagnosis usually takes place before the age of three.
The school’s disciplinary practices are called aversive interventions and vinegar-soaked cotton balls put in the mouth along with similar abusive disciplinary strategies are not illegal in schools, says the National Autism Association. Lori McIllwain, executive director of the NAA says that she has heard many reports of aversive interventions being used, such as students being denied food and water, spraying students in the eyes with lemon juice, force feeding, and shaving cream being put in the mouth —and it’s all legal.
Parents Carol and Bill Rutar couldn’t believe schools are allowed to use such harsh disciplinary actions against students.
“If I were to attempt to force an adult to do something like this, I would be arrested and charged with assault and battery. Further, if this happened to a student in a general education setting, there would be public outrage,” says Carol Rutar.
A Texas Education Agency official admits that ‘there is no law that says aversive interventions are or are not legal in Texas.” The federal government’s General Accountability Office did a study in 2009 and found that there are no federal laws in place, “to keep dangerous and abusive methods from being used” in schools and few states have any laws prohibiting the practice.
Exley Elementary School in Katy, where the incidents allegedly took place, is now under investigation by the police and the district attorney. Exley’s principal, Imelda Medrano would not confirm or deny the accusations, except to say that “a treadmill was used” and “vinegar was introduced.”
“My message to principals is this: if aversive interventions are happening in your schools, you should act to stop it. Positive support training is needed, and law or no law, aversives are abusive and dehumanizing. They should be banned in your school,” says Phillips.
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