A special needs school in Maidstone has apologised after a court ruled it had breached two students human rights.
Five Acre Wood special school admitted breaking its own policy and government guidance by repeatedly strapping two autistic students into chairs to restrict their movements on twins Samuel and Jacob Montague.
Their parents have been offered more than £80,000 compensation after a civil court case brought against Kent County Council.
The twins, who are both severely autistic and non-verbal, started at the school in 2009 aged four, with the intention that they would attend until age 19. They are now both 17.
Parents Annie and Mark pulled them out in 2013 after realising staff were strapping the boys into chairs despite objections and protests.
Now Annie and Mark are calling for changes to the law to make it clearer the restraints should not be used against children like Samuel and Jacob.
In a statement issued after the settlement, they said ‘Children with special educational needs should be protected, not strapped into chairs. It has been a long, difficult process, but it has been our privilege to be the voice for Samuel and Jacob. They, and other children with autism or learning disabilities, deserve the full protection of the law. Local authorities should be on their side, empowering their lives, instead of using restrictive practices like restraints that can cause trauma and harm’.
The first public incident took place in 2010, when the boys were wheeled out at a school concert strapped into the ‘Hardrock’ chairs.
The chairs restrain movement through a number of straps that go around legs, arms, and shoulders.
When their parents protested, they were told the mechanical restraint chairs were the only way the boys could participate in the concert and their use was a one-off.
by strapping them into mechanical restraint chairs at school, the local authority breached their human rights and failed to deliver any therapeutic benefit to the twins
Despite this, the couple became concerned that Samuel and Jacob were being routinely restrained while at the school.
In June 2011, a clinical psychologist visited and witnessed one of the boys strapped into the Hardrock chairs in the classroom.
The school admitted a number of failings and admitted the use of straps and trays on the specialist chairs could restrict movement and amount to mechanical restraint.
They admitted the restraint took place while the boys were at school and without their parents’ agreement, which was a breach of the school’s policy and national guidance.
A spokesman for the council said in a statement that it ‘sincerely apologises for any harm, distress and/or pain and suffering that were caused to Samuel and Jacob and to their parents as a result of these failures’.