No restraint till the handcuffs go on

From St. Petersburg, Florida, here’s a fascinating story about an assistant principal’s patient attempt to reason with an out-of-control kindergartener. Finally, she called the police, who handcuffed the 5-year-old girl, and sat her in a squad car until her mother arrived. It’s all on videotape.

Videotape was rolling March 14 when the 5-year-old girl swung again and again, her bantam punches landing on the outstretched palms of Nicole Dibenedetto, the new assistant principal at Fairmount Park Elementary.

She tore papers off Dibenedetto’s bulletin board and desk. She climbed on a table four times. About an hour had passed since she refused to participate in a kindergarten math lesson, which escalated into a series of defiant and destructive acts.

Dibenedetto had used tactics from a Pinellas school district training called Crisis Prevention Intervention:

Let the child know her actions have consequences but also try to “de-escalate.”

Give her opportunities to end the conflict.

Try not to touch her, defend yourself and make sure no one else gets hurt.

I think the moral is that school staffers should be authorized to restrain a child physically, so they’re not tempted to call in the police, who have little experience in dealing with kindergarten tantrums.

Of course, the wild child’s mother is suing.

About Joanne


  1. The school called in the police
    to do something for them that
    they, probably under the law,
    could not do: Restrain the child.

    In California it is illeagal to
    restrain a child in school.
    However, I once saw a student in
    a SDC who was possibly assigned
    the task of keeping another
    student in a chair.

    Furthermore, I know upon
    second-hand knowledge of a
    student who was detained in
    an office for assault–near
    crippleing assault. Upon arrival
    of the officer, the supervisor
    only heard the officer
    tell the student that he “..can
    do things that the school
    employees are not allowed to
    After the door to the office
    closed, the supervisor, while
    leaving, heard a very large
    object (possibly the size of
    the student) land against the
    office wall.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If there is a law that either denies teachers the right of self defense or that prevents a teacher from physically stopping an assault, then that law is stupid.
    You cannot operate an education mill without the need for judgement on the part of the operators. If you think you can write laws or regs to sunstitute for judgement, you are nuts.

  3. The teachers were smart. If they’d bent her over and spanked her, which is what she deserved, or even so much as touched her, they would have been sued for assault. There was a case like this talked about in City Journal awhile ago where they even went through a criminal trial before the poor teacher was found not guilty. In that case, I don’t think the teacher even did anything. You couldn’t pay me to be a teacher.

  4. It sounds like this child has Asperger’s or autism.

    If the child felt overwhelmed and acted up, it could be due to sensory problems. The teacher kept saying the child’s name frequently as part of her commands and trying to make eye contact. This would over load the child even more and that would lead to more acting up.

    At this point, I don’t believe that the teacher was taping herself as a self-improvement exercise. The article states: About an hour had passed since she (the child) refused to participate in a kindergarten math lesson.

    The tape, which lasts about 30 minutes, begins with Dibenedetto alone in the classroom with the girl, saying the child’s name frequently as part of her commands.

  5. A simpler explanation than autism is a very simple case of bad parentitis. For example, notice the instant response of getting an attorney. I feel sorry for that kid.

  6. It sounds like this child has Asperger’s or autism.

    No, it sounds like that child was just being a child. It is common for children to simply not be ready for institutional learning at such an early age (five years). I was like that back then. It’s easy to say the child was “bad”, “crazy”, or had a medical problem such as autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, etc. She did disrupt the class, defy orders, and cause minor property damage – but to her credit did not hurt anyone.

    And not all children are suited to institutional learning. Edison, for example, educated himself without schools and with minimal resources. He was not even homeschooled (to use the modern term) but unschooled.

    Keep in mind that modern schools evolved from Prussian drill instruction – emphasizing discipline for its own sake, and breakdown of the personal individual into an impersonal model citizen. Academic learning was of secondary value. Almost all schools, even the so-called liberal and alternative ones, keep on that authoritarian framework. The only difference is that psychological coercion (crowding, intimidation, guilt, shame, peer pressure) has replaced corporal punishment.

    The Prussian model is not necessarily a bad thing. It is cheap, for one, and extendable to entire nations. And some children need a rigidly structured system. Others do not, however, and those ones need a different model, and a way out.

    As for discipline, it is necessary, and teachers should have the right to restrain or use minor physical force on children posing harm to others. But in this case, why couldn’t the principal just said to the 5-year-old, “Go home”, or “Go outside and play”, rather than calling in the cops? That’s all she wanted to do, anyway.

    I see no good in forcing young kids to attend school – while at the same time repeating the same stuff over and over because they aren’t mature enough to learn more.

  7. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    My son had similar problems in school last year. There were a few times where my wife or I had to leave work on short notice to go pick him up. In the case of the little girl the mother could not be bothered to come pick up her daughter even though this was the second time that the behavior had gotten so bad that the police had to be called.

    Word comes back that the mother would not be able to make it until 3:15 p.m. It is shortly after 2 p.m.

    It seems to me that social services should be looking into what is happening in the little girl’s family. I can’t imagine a decent parent leaving their young child in that situation for an extended period of time.

    And by the way, my son in doing wonderfully in school this year. He is very strong willed and his teacher last year just would not be firm with him. He was no problem at home but he was a terror at school. His teacher this year has 35 years experience and has been absolutely fantastic. It took about 2 weeks for her to convince him that his old tricks were not going to work but since that time he has absolutely loved her and he now loves school. An experienced teacher can make all the difference in the world.

  8. What’s wrong with the police physically restraining a child? How is that worse than the vice principal restraining the child?

    A friend of mine who was a principal told me about about the time a first grader was in her office having a fit, throwing staplers, overturning chairs and ripping up papers. This went on for over an hour before the police arrived, who obviously didn’t think her 911 call was a priority. Her office was a complete mess and she was nervous wreck.

    Sometimes young children need to be physically restrained.

    I would rather have the police do it than trust a school principal.

    I see too many principals who look like they’d love to take out their frustration over low test scores any way they can.

  9. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Stuff like this is why my wife and I decided her best and highest value was full time mother. I am eternally grateful my children were raised and educated more by us than by the Palo Alto schools.

  10. Robert Wright,

    Sometimes young children need to be physically restrained.

    I would rather have the police do it than trust a school principal

    You think that a person who is so lacking in judgement as to be unable to restrain a 5-year-old is someone competent to run an entire elementary school?????

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Don’t leave us in suspense, kparker, exactly what should the principal have done that would not have cost her job? A Vulcan mind meld? Oh, yes. Appeal to the child’s better nature.

  12. Mr. Davis says:

    To think that it took the cuffing of a 5 year old for me agree with Robert Wright!

    Teachers and principals should be trained to help people change their behaviour through self control and thought. Police should be trained to help people change their behaviour through corecion and violence. Let’s not confuse the two.

    This is also a demonstration of the futility of mandatory public education. I suspect that if this child had been in a private school environment, her parents would have been told long ago that she was not ready for school, given a refund check or voucher and told not to bring the kid back.

    Instead, we have “schools” where all children must attend and must be accommodated. The children are grouped by biological anniversary date regardless of ability or inclination. And they will remain in the custody of the school system for at least 11 years without hope of parole or time off for good achievement.

  13. Mr. Davis is right about mandatory public education. Not only can’t the students escape (unless the parents go to the trouble of setting up a legal escape route, i.e. private or home- schooling) but the schools themselves can’t expel the real troublemakers.

  14. Walter,

    You’ll notice that Robert didn’t say Too bad, but that’s the way things are these days.

    Instead, he indicated he preferred it this way, and that an elementary-school principal was untrustworthy for such a task. It was this latter that I was responding to.

  15. I think most school employees would be able to physically restrain a child properly most of the time.

    But what if a child, resisting restraint, got a hand free and slapped the principal in the face? Or bit a finger?

    Some people would have an uncontrollable reaction. Most would not.

    Principals aren’t often put to these kinds of tests but policemen are.

    I trust the judgement of school principals but physically restraining a child requires more than judgement. It requires skill and training.

    Most of the time there would be no problem, sure. But is “most of the time” good enough?

    When I was just a tadpole, the principal could whip out a paddle and give a child a few whacks. That was back in the good old days. You know, when a Catholic priest would never harm a child.

  16. Bluemount says:

    I suspect that if this child had been in a private school environment, her parents would have been told long ago that she was not ready for school, given a refund check or voucher and told not to bring the kid back.

    For whatever reason this child doesn’t belong where she is now. Society may have her institutionalize now, fill her life with a parade of passionately advocating unskilled aides, or wait a few years, after she has experienced years of abuse, and then have her institutionalized. Parents often don’t intervene because they are listening to so many authorities and it seems to work for some people (the most poorly behaved, academically disinclined kid I know just got accepted at Columbia and it was all done at a huge price to the public). Incompetence pays very well for a very few people.

    The system needs to sell acceptable alternative. Headstart is not as good as a caring parent. Children do not learn ‘social skills’ in groups, they learn pecking order and they fight it when it hurts. Alienating parents doesn’t help either. Home-schooling and a parents who was allowed to be proud of their child would produce better results. If schools cannot learn to communicate effectively and provide options that support what parents are capable of doing, it is too late for this child.

  17. jeanness says:

    Where do we draw the line? this was a 5 year old behaving like a 5 year old. was the mother notified before the police was called in? could the teacher not place her on “time-out” maybe in a room by herself while the parent was contacted? what’s next? shoot them if they misbehave?

  18. From Bluemount:
    Children do not learn ‘social skills’ in groups, they learn pecking order and they fight it when it hurts.

    Someone who sees the light!

    Does anyone really expect children to learn an academic subject, such as chemistry or Latin, by cramming them into groups with no teachers or factual reference materials? Even the most hardened educrats have more sense than that. So how come they expect unlearned children to learn social skills from each other, rather than from mature adults? This is partly a dodge for adult educators to avoid involvement, and keep on being lazy and cheap. It is also another way to break children into conformity.

    Schools with little or no “pecking order” are the most effective, in both academic and non-academic matters. So-called liberal child-centered schools are the worst when it comes to the sneaky authoritarianism of peer leaders and their pecking orders.

  19. I have seen the video of a 5 year old girl being handcuffed in a achool.

    If there was ever a case for school vouchers, this is it:

    1 If there is so much distrust of teachers that they require video survelience, the child belongs in another school.

    2 I gasped with disbelief at the teacher actually walking away from this little girl who was attacking her physically – she was afraid of the student (should be the othar way around). Being White, I am certain she was afraid of the NAACP attorneys that would undoubtedly descend on her.

    3 No doubt the cops were called because the school felt absolutely helpless in using any physical restraint because of legal and racial considerations.

    4 Cops did what they were trained to do – it’s their policy to handcuff anyone until things can be sorted out.

    Insane – YES

    Pedictable -YES

    Preventable – YES – in the past, a loving swat on the butt by a teacher would stop this stuff in it’s tracks. Also a loving swat by the parents. Not rocket science, and not something you need NAACP attorneys or cops for.

    Again, if the parents didn’t like this teacher, they could go elsewhere with vouchers.

  20. Mad Scientist says:

    Should have Tasered the little hellion.


  21. “Principals aren’t often put to these kinds of tests but policemen are.”

    No, policemen are (maybe) trained and experienced in handling adult-size criminals – and not handling them gently, either. They have no special skills for handling a 5 year old throwing a tantrum, and a good many of their usual tactics are likely to be too much force for a kindergartner. Handcuffs, for instance. Who should have those skills are elementary school principals and teachers. They are the ones who will actually be there when the kids act up, and waiting for the cops to arrive is not a good idea at all.

    If the law doesn’t allow the school personnel to defend themselves, that’s an intolerable working condition. I’d suggest going on strike until it’s changed. But that doesn’t fit in with the ultra-liberal agenda of the NEA, I guess…

  22. rouxdsla says:

    I saw the video this morning. The asst principal tried to get the child to calm down but was unable. The police came and one of the officers commented that he’d have to treat her the same as her mother. Possibly indicating that the mother had been handcuffed by the officer.

    This child learned this behavior at home and she earned the handcuffing. The police did the right thing and the child should be expelled. It is not the duty of the schools to tolerate this kind of behavior.

    Remember, there are other children there trying to learn and deserve better.

  23. Mike in Texas says:


    Is there a place on the internet you can view this video?

  24. I had a friend who had just heard briefly that a 5yr old had been handcuffed and was aghast. I haven’t read any mainstream coverage of this incident but, thanks to Joanne, I was able to tell her exactly what was going on and why the police were called. Thanks a ton Joanne!

  25. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Clearly, any school official or police officer should physically be capable of restraining a ‘wild’ unarmed 5-year old child…. due to the overlitigious nature of our society, both the school officials and the police are probably afraid of potential lawsuits (no doubt some shyster lawyer is already consulting with the single mother of this child)….hence, the overreaction of handcuffing a disobedient unarmed child. Tort/lawsuit reform is in order to restore common sense!


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