Boy’s mother says police, adults on bus mishandled incident; school system says employees acted appropriately
Howard County school officials are investigating an incident involving an 11-year-old autistic boy who was handcuffed by police officers on a school bus after he allegedly bit several adults and students.
The child, who does not speak and has limited social skills, according to his mother, was being transported from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, which accepts students whose severe learning disabilities require specialized education not provided by public school systems.
According to Howard County police, the boy’s bus driver and aide called 911 on Wednesday afternoon. When officers responded to the bus at Whiskey Bottom Road and All Saints Road near Laurel, the driver and aide reported that they and two students had been bitten by the 11-year-old after the boy became aggressive and escaped his seat harness, police said.
“An officer tried to restrain the boy and ultimately placed him in handcuffs for his own safety and the safety of the others on the bus,” Sherry Llewellyn, a police spokeswoman, said in an email. “The use of handcuffs is determined by the potential danger of the person to himself or someone else.”
The driver, aide and two other students sustained minor injuries; no one was taken to a hospital and no arrest was made, police said.
The boy’s mother, Judy Santelices of Columbia, said the bus driver, aide and police officers “should have treated my son differently. They should know how to handle autistic kids.”
After boarding the bus, Santelices said, she found her son in his harness and handcuffed behind his back. Santelices said she wanted to know how her son got out of his harness in the first place.
Since 2010, all officers have been required to receive training titled “Autism Awareness for Law Enforcement” that the department developed in coordination with the Howard County Autism Society, Llewellyn said.
Santelices said she has temporarily pulled her son from classes at Kennedy Krieger.
Both Kennedy Krieger and Howard County school officials said they are working with the family to review the situation and address Santelices’ concerns.
Bryan Stark, a Kennedy Krieger spokesman, said, “Our role is to reach out and connect with the family, connect with the school system that’s involved and connect with the transportation provider and bring them together to broker a dialogue to figure out what went awry.”
On Friday, the student’s parents had a phone conference with county school officials, who agreed to work toward making the boy’s bus ride more comfortable and provide training for the bus driver and aide, Santelices said.
According to Rebecca Amani-Dove, a Howard County schools spokeswoman, the driver and the aide on the bus were under contract with the school system to provide transportation for students in Kennedy Krieger programs between the county and the school’s Greenspring Avenue campus.
Both the driver and aide received training for working with special-education students from the Howard County school system and correctly followed protocols for protecting students during the incident Wednesday, Amani-Dove said.
“The driver and the aide involved tried to calm the student, and followed protocol and called 911 when they were unable to,” Amani-Dove said. “It’s in our interest to calm students down so that they don’t hurt themselves or others.”
Santelices said she should have been called before 911, and that the driver and aide were not working to calm her son.
After she drove to the scene, Santelices said, the aide began yelling at her about her son’s behavior.
“She’s just escalating and escalating,” said Santelices, who added that her son reacts badly to stimulation, loud noises and angry tones in others’ voices. “I was trying to explain to them that he doesn’t talk, and he’s autistic, and I was trying to tell them that he’s not really a bad kid.”
Santelices said the school system and Police Department should review their protocols so other students don’t have to go through the “trauma” that her son experienced.
“It’s not just my kid,” she said. “Do they have some kind of alternative to handcuffing?”