Child handcuffed by police sparks debate in Pa. school district

A photo of a handcuffed student being escorted by two police officers to an ambulance in Lancaster County has been shared more than 27,000 times on Facebook and sparked questions of how police handle incidents at schools.

Many people were “understandably upset” by the photo, the School District of Lancaster said in a statement on its website that provided additional context.

“The child was not being arrested but rather temporarily restrained by the police in order to protect the student from harming himself or others on the way to the hospital for treatment,” the district said. “Police determined restraining the child in this manner was the best course of action for the child’s safety under the circumstances. Although this was a last resort, they used their best judgment to manage this medical situation and protect the child and staff.”

The Inquirer and Daily News are not republishing the photo. It is unclear who took the image, which was posted on Facebook earlier this week and has continued to generate conversation and shares.

“The continued circulation of the photo on social media or elsewhere also does not help the child or what the child is dealing with at this time,” Lancaster Chief of Police Jarrad Berkihiser said Thursday.

The district did not provide the date of the incident, give the age of the child, or identify the school where it happened.

Berkihiser said the handcuffs were needed to protect the student from harming himself or others and were removed once he was safely in the ambulance.

“The initial officer involved has a good rapport with the student, which helped calm the situation,” Berkihiser said. “The officer also accompanied the student to the treating hospital because of that rapport and relationship they have, and did not leave his side until he was comfortable at the hospital.”

The officer works in the district and was at the school when staff requested her, Lancaster Police Lt. Bill Hickey said. She requested another officer’s assistance to help restrain the child, he said.

Berkihiser said he would meet with the district’s superintendent, Damaris Rau, “to determine what can be learned from the incident,” but defended the officers’ actions.

The district said that it would continue to work with police to respond to medical emergencies of students and that the actions taken in this situation “were in the best interest of the student’s safety and well-being.”

Police in Philadelphia and other cities have faced questions for how they handle students deemed to be unruly.

In Northeast Philadelphia last year, the father of a third grader at Solis-Cohen Elementary said a school police officer dragged his son from the classroom, detained him in a bathroom, threw him against the wall, and cursed at him for refusing to sit down in art class.

In South Carolina in 2015, a school resource officer was fired after being caught on video flipping and dragging a student who had refused to leave the classroom for using a cellphone. The incident sparked an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department agreed to mandate antibias and deescalation training for deputies working in schools.