By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
Cedric Napoleon gave his foster mother, Toni Price, a beaming smile as he boarded a Killeen school bus on March 7, 2002.
"You know I love you, Ma," Cedric said, then an eighth-grader at Manor Middle School.
Cedric never made it back home.
The 14-year-old special-education student died that afternoon after his behavior management teacher placed him in a "therapeutic floor hold" to prevent him from struggling during a dispute over lunch.
Price spoke out on her foster son's behalf during a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., Tuesday about the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint techniques in schools. She was one of two parents of victims to testify.
The House Education and Labor Committee hearing was conducted on the same day government investigators released a report that found widespread allegations of abuse involving the uses of seclusion and restraint in classrooms, several of which resulted in death.
The Killeen Independent School District has since changed its policy so no student can be restrained on the floor, and all instances must be thoroughly documented, said KISD spokeswoman Leslie Gilmore.
Employees certified to restrain must go through Crisis Plan Intervention training. Students can still be restrained while sitting or standing up, she said.
According to Price's testimony, Cedric was denied lunch on the morning of his death as punishment after he stopped doing his school work. Around 2:30 p.m. Cedric, who still hadn't eaten, tried to leave the classroom.
The teacher, roughly 6 feet tall and more than 230 pounds, forced the 129-pound Cedric back down into his chair.
Cedric struggled while being held in his chair, so the teacher then pinned him face-down on the floor and sat on him.
"I can't breathe," Cedric said.
"If you can speak, you can breathe," the teacher said, according to Price's testimony.
Cedric stopped moving, but the teacher continued to restrain him. Finally, the teacher and a teacher's aide put Cedric back in his chair and wiped drool off his lip. The limp child slumped over and slipped out of his chair, Price testified.
Cedric was dead by the time Price arrived at the school.
Cedric's death was ruled a homicide, but no charges were ever filed. The teachers involved in the restraint never faced trial. A Bell County grand jury decided to take no action against them after an investigation in August 2002.
The teacher who smothered Cedric now teaches at a school in Virginia.
"If that teacher was just doing her job, then something is very wrong with the system," Price said. "If I'd treated Cedric Napoleon that way at home, I'd be in jail."
Ann Gaydos also testified at Tuesday's hearing alongside her daughter, Paige.
Gaydos said Paige, then a 7-year-old with mild autism, would return home from her school in Cupertino, Calif., with cuts and bruises from being restrained.
On one occasion, a teacher took Paige into an empty classroom after the child acted out.
"There, she grabbed Paige's wrists in her left hand, forced them up between Paige's shoulder blades, grabbed Paige's left ankle in her right hand, lifted her off the ground, and drove her headfirst into the ground," Gaydos said.
Government reportshundreds of cases
The U.S. Government Accountability Office – Congress' investigative arm – conducted a lengthy investigation about abusive restraint and seclusion techniques at the request of U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
The report examined 10 cases in detail. In four of them, these abuses were fatal. The GAO uncovered hundreds of similar allegations through its investigation.
Miller's committee is considering new laws that would limit the use of restraints and seclusion.
Currently, there are no federal laws that regulate the uses of seclusion and restraint in public or private schools. Laws vary at the state level, and 19 states have no laws at all.
Ex-special-ed teacher: Use restraint sparingly
Ed Coet, a former special-education teacher in KISD, said restraint techniques are sometimes necessary for safety reasons, but they should never be used as a form of punishment.
Restraint can be effective when administered properly, and only as a last resort.
"Sometimes unfortunately they have to be restrained for their safety and the safety of other students in the class," he said. "You should never, never do it unless absolutely necessary, and definitely never as punishment."
Coet worked as a behavior management teacher in KISD from 1996 to 2001, and has had to restrain students in the past. He said he does not fault the district for Cedric's death. KISD employees received extensive training on restraint techniques at that time, he said.
"They trained people exceedingly well, and we were given monthly hands-on refresher training," he said. "It's unfortunate that a tragedy like that has to take place before a policy is changed. They were trying to do the right thing."
Contact Rebecca LaFlure@firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.