COVINGTON, Ky. (CN) - The U.S. government filed a statement of interest in the case of two disabled Kentucky children who claim they were handcuffed at school, saying officers should be mindful of students' disabilities.
The mothers of 8-year-old S.R. and 9-year-old L.G. say that elementary school resource officer Kevin Sumner handcuffed the kids behind their backs and above their elbows to control conduct arising from their disabilities. They sued Kenton County, Ky., in August for violations of the children's rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendments and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
S.R., a third-grade boy, had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder and L.G., a girl in fourth grade, also had ADHD, the lawsuit says.
Sumner handcuffed S.R. once and L.G. on two occasions, according to the complaint.
The U.S. Department of Justice's statement of interest, filed on Friday, gives an Eastern Kentucky Federal Court a framework to protect the rights of children, especially those with disabilities, in their interactions with school resource officers, or SROs.
According to the government, SROs can help schools maintain a safe, positive environment if they are trained properly in their clearly-defined roles. But if they do not stay within their limits, they could "criminalize school-related misbehavior and risk lasting and severe consequences for children, particularly children with disabilities," the Justice Department's statement says.
The government's statement says an SRO should not handle routine disciplinary instances that should be addressed by school officials. SROs should also make reasonable modifications to their procedures to accommodate children with disabilities, according to the Justice Department.
"In considering the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims, the court must consider whether an objectively reasonable SRO would have handcuffed elementary school students in school under the circumstances presented here, after the children exhibited misbehavior arising out of their disabilities," the 39-page statement reads. "Further, the court must apply the ADA and evaluate whether defendant Sumner should have reasonably modified his policing procedure instead of handcuffing the children, and whether the sheriff's office's handcuffing policies and methods of administration discriminate against children with disabilities, like S.R. and L.G."
There are about 19,000 SROs in schools across the country, the government says.
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