One thing duct-tape shouldn’t fix: Unruly students

Can someone explain why teachers would duct-tape students to a chair or tape over their mouths? Or lock students in a closet?

A Cherokee high school teacher pleaded guilty to false imprisonment today for duct-taping an autistic boy to a chair and confining a blind girl under a desk. The former Woodstock High teacher was sentenced to six years of probation and $2,000 in fines. The crimes occurred in 2008.

I get a lot of folks e-mailing me stories from around the country about similar crimes and am puzzled why this still occurs. As someone who had 12 years of tough nuns, I never saw more than a ruler whack now and then.  (Yes, sometimes it was me whose hand was whacked. I was one of those jump-up-and-down kids when I knew an answer and could get carried away with my hand waving.)

These discipline methods fall into the category of professional suicide as there is simply no way to defend them. And I know that teachers are aware that these behaviors are unacceptable and will get them in trouble.

I was surprised to hear Michelle Rhee say that she put little bits of masking tape over the mouths of her students once to quiet them as they walked to lunch. In sharing her first-year learning curve as a new teacher, Rhee admitted that she lacked classroom management skills. On a day when her children were rowdy, a desperate Rhee says she told the class to please be quiet on the way to the cafeteria. And then she put the tape on their lips, presenting it as a “keep quiet” game. But when Rhee told them to pull the tape off, she had 35 crying children. She never told them, she said, to lick their lips first so the tape would come off with ease.

(Speaking of Rhee, she has an op-ed in today’s AJC where she reiterates her objections to layoff policies that protect seniority.)

Getting  back to the local story, if any teachers can explain what would drive a colleague to these actions, please share it on the blog.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

71 comments Add your comment

just watching

February 24th, 2011
1:59 pm

Oh Trotter….where art thou?


February 24th, 2011
2:08 pm

Desperation would more than likely be their reason, but that doesn’t make it right! Or it could be stupidity! There is no excuse to abuse a child. As a teacher I work with autistic kids that haven’t been placed and kids with other disabilities. I would never resort to using duct tape. If I can’t control them, an administrator will be notified immediately to address the issue. They have the power to get the necessary help. This story saddens me.

V for Vendetta

February 24th, 2011
2:14 pm

I do not support their actions.

However . . .

The elephant in the room that is special ed. has been an anchor around the neck of public education for far too long. ADA and IDEA are use to justify all sorts of heinous students, parents, and behaviors from both. For every wonderful child in special ed. there are a dozen more hooligans labeled EBD or ADHD that shouldn’t be served in a public school. (EBD is just a label given to thugs and kids who weren’t disciplined growing up. It’s garbage.)

How much money is being wasted on this crap?

2 cents

February 24th, 2011
2:15 pm

just how many years was Rhee in the classroom??

Dunwoody Mom

February 24th, 2011
2:21 pm

@V for Vendetta….This story was about an autistic child and a blind child…not a child with ADHD.


February 24th, 2011
2:30 pm

I feel desperation drove her to it…..does not excuse it. I guess in my years, I was never very desperate.

drew (former teacher)

February 24th, 2011
2:32 pm

I’m always impressed by the creative use of duct tape, but obviously this was a bad idea. I live by the Duct Tape Rule: If you can’t duct it, f**k it.


February 24th, 2011
2:37 pm

I can remember in the late 70’s early 80’s being in elementary school and teachers using the clear tape on a talkative kid. It was mainly for embarrassment that anything since it wasn’t “painful” to the mouth. All she ever said was those lips better stay behind the tape. I also remember a teacher tying a piece of string from the desk to a boy’s bet loop because he wandered the classroom all the time. Lastly, this one may be a bit controversial, if we got in any kind of trouble, we had to stand with our arms outstretched, palms up and we had to hold up the books until we reached muscle failure. It didn’t hurt physically, but sure was embarrassing. These were three different grades and three different teachers.

I know the boy who was tied to a chair passed in an auto accident, but kids with tape and book ordeal seemed to turn out ok…..who knew.

but, to be on topic, I think duct tape is a bit painful, on all grounds. And COMPLETELY wrong to use on mentally/physically handicapped students.

I wish I knew who you are, V for Vendetta....

February 24th, 2011
2:39 pm

Your comments are as harsh, wrong-minded, and evil as any I’ve ever read on this blog. My guess is that you have no idea what you are really talking about. My child is one of those “thugs” that was in a psycho-ed facility due to behavioral issues related to autism and bipolar disorder. I assure you that he didn’t suffer from a lack of discipline at home. He has two well-adjusted siblings that don’t have his diagnosis or his problems. Your statement that EBD kids are …”thugs and kids who weren’t disciplined growing up” might not be an accurate statement after all.

I’m sure that there are indeed some kids that are EBD because of poor parenting, but that does not mean that all EBD kids are “thugs” or that special ed is an “anchor around the neck of Public Education”. You really should see things from a parent’s perspective before you speak.

If you want to post your real name or address, we can continue the conversation in person. My guess is that you are thankful for the anonymous nature of the internet, and would prefer to snipe away.

the prof

February 24th, 2011
3:00 pm

On kind of a related note, I am a parent of 4 children, one who is very handicapped (not ADHD or EBD). My “special” child requries lots of special attention in her class at school. I am all for inclusiveness and including her in regular classrooms, but I wonder if we are “diluting” our talent by requiring her to be at her school and not at a school where the very best therapists and very best equipment would be, giving her the very best attention during every period of the school day. I love the teachers and therapists that she has now and am very happy with the school and system that they are all in but am torn wondering whether she could be better served…

@ the prof

February 24th, 2011
3:08 pm

I agree. I think that we need to look at whether academics need to be pushed as hard, as well. More emphasis on life skills might do a lot of this poulation more good over time than learning multiplication tables.

Tonya C.

February 24th, 2011
3:16 pm

the prof:

Any ‘good’ special ed parent has asked themselves this question. Our son has entered middle-school this year and is mostly mainstreamed. But I fought it tooth-and-nail until he had demonstrated the maturity to handle the environment. I STILL believe the best case scenario for him would be a small-school environment, but as a high-functioning Aspie he is doing really well in the school he is in. I am not a fan of inclusion being hammered down the throats of non-special ed parents and kids regardless of the cost to the rest of the classroom.

ETA: My son has the worst year ever last year (5th grade). He started off in a self-contained classroom, but against my gut instinct we allowed him to be mainstreamed. It wasn’t the right environment and he wasn’t ready, and we all paid dearly for that. I felt the school forced inclusion on me despite multiple requests otherwise.

Lighter Moment

February 24th, 2011
3:24 pm

What Duct Tape IS good for: The Duct Tape Prom. Check out some pics :)

Tad Jackson

February 24th, 2011
3:26 pm

Don’t ever touch a student … unless you’re patting them on the back.

V is an idiot

February 24th, 2011
3:27 pm

I wish I knew said just about everything that I wanted to say and very elegantly I might add. I have five children and all are very bright. I do have a child with Aspergers that was diagnosed this year. He functions very well in the classroom but does need some extra attention. We have to go through testing both mental and physical for him to receive this attention although we have a diagnosis from a physician outside of the school as well as treatment by a occupational therapist. Discipline is not an issue. My child deserves to learn like anyone else. Although he can be a little disruptive at times this does not qualify him as a hooligan and a thug. You may be familiar with a gentleman named Bill Gates. He was diagnosed with Aspergers. I suppose we should have written him off. I hope you never have a special needs child. That child would deserve so much better than you.

Mid Ga Retiree

February 24th, 2011
3:55 pm

Sounds like the teacher that used the duct tape must have somehow slipped through the psychological evaluation process to become a teacher. Wait, do they have a psycho eval process to determine if prospective teachers are suited for the job????? If this were an act of desperation, that would indicate that problems had been building and building until the teacher “snapped”, so to speak. If so, why didn’t administrators see this coming??? Were they too busy hiding in their offices instead of being out in the halls checking on teachers periodically????? Even though the teacher messed up big time, it seems like an “on-their-toes” administrator should have seen warning signs and intervened.


February 24th, 2011
4:19 pm

@V is an idiot, I certainly feel for your situation, but did want to let you know that Bill Gates AS diganosis is an untrue rumor.


February 24th, 2011
4:25 pm

While this is absolutely not acceptable, I am willing to bet that there are multiple “bad guys” in this story. I am betting the sped teacher was NOT getting the administrative and parental support s/he had to have, and was probably in a situation with too many severely impaired children and too little help.

I push into a sped class with 14 (!)children, one talented teacher, and a parapro. All day, with a few others in and out. All the students are toilet trained and all speak; all have retardation of varying degrees and many behavior problems; most will never be able to live independently. Some are FAS, some are autistic, some are shunted from place to place due to parental abuse. One has been in 7 living placements in 2 1/2 years. Almost all have parents who have no idea how to discipline them, or work with them. There are good days, and LOTS of bad days. God bless sped teachers; there is probably a special place in heaven for them.


February 24th, 2011
4:25 pm

Ms Downey…..If you need to ask “what would drive a colleague to these actions”, you shouldn’t be writing this column.

Why don’t you ask your friend Bev Hall???? I’m sure she has all the answers.


February 24th, 2011
4:27 pm

Here’s a question for you all. How do we balance these two statements made above, both by parents of special-ed kids?
1. I am not a fan of inclusion being hammered down the throats of non-special ed parents and kids regardless of the cost to the rest of the classroom.
2. My child deserves to learn like anyone else. . . . he can be a little disruptive at times . .


February 24th, 2011
4:35 pm

I am so sorry to say this, but I think more teachers are going to crack and do things out of desperation. Teachers are being pushed too far right now. The students will suffer and the teachers should get fired, but someone has to look at why?

Tonya C.

February 24th, 2011
4:40 pm


I am reasonable. And a lot less delusional than most special ed parents. The world doesn’t revolve around our child, and I worry as much about other people’s children as I do my own. In my experience, the children who were ‘a little disruptive’ are a lot more than that in a classroom of 25-30 kids. I’m still paranoid about how my son’s behavior effects others, but his teachers have all assured me he is fine. And they are free to, at anytime, let me know otherwise without concern for backlash.

the prof

February 24th, 2011
5:12 pm

Thank all of you for your comments! I agree with Tonya and also am always concerned that my daughter’s behavior will affect others learning as well (including two of her siblings!).

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

February 24th, 2011
5:26 pm

I have never raised a hand to a child, or taped a mouth shut, or used vulgar language, or threatened a student…but I have absolutely no problem imagining a scenario in which a teacher could get pushed that far. Abused people can become the abusers.


February 24th, 2011
5:39 pm

If Michelle Rhee has admitted to using this barbaric tactic of duct taping students’ mouth shut, why on earth is anyone listening to her as she attempting to tell the rest if the world how to do education right?

Funny story

February 24th, 2011
5:47 pm

I once had a very good student who every now and then would get out of hand. On one occassion, after I had communicated with the dad via my “blue note,” the dad wrote back that if I had any further problems, “I should let him know, and he would duct tape his son to the pole in the basement!” I was so mortified that I went to the office to report the potential child abuse. Those at the school who were in the know laughed. Apparently it was a well-known family prank that the brother had duct taped this kids to the pole in the basement and it was a family joke. After that, all I had to do was mention duct tape and the kids would smile and straighten up! :)

Ole Guy

February 24th, 2011
5:59 pm

Prof, are you implying that the LIMITED 12 year PUBLICALY-FUNDED public education pipeline should include training in so-called life skills? Do I, you, or,for that matter, any tax payer want monies to go toward teaching little Johnny toilet skills? NO WAY! I want MY tax monies to be applied to his skills which will enable him to become a viable contributor…so-called “life skills”, important as they are, are Little Johnny’s responsibilities. I”M not the least bit interested in how he gains his life skills, just not on MY dime. If, as an adult, his diminished life skills nake him unfit for a productive role, that’s HIS problem, not mine. If, as an adult, he has terrible table manners, is unable to handle the mysteries of finance, craps his pants in public, or is guilty of any of a number of social faux pas, that’s HIS problem, and HIS responsibility to repair. ALL I’m interested in is his capability as a mover, shaker, and/or a producer, and that translates into a sound academic preparation. .

V is an idiot

February 24th, 2011
6:26 pm

Allen: thanks for your comment and in a respectable manner. Different situations for families with spec needs children. My child is high functioning and can easily handle a normal classroom setting. We have friends who do not want their child mainstreamed and I understand their concerns. The concessions that my child needs are fairly simple. He needs to get up and wander around at times. He needs an extra push every now and the and it is very important that he does not get overwhelmed because it sets him back. I know this can be a little burdensome but to put him in a class dedicated to just sp needs is not fair to him. He has aspirations of being a veterinarian and I have no doubt he can do it.

Archie@Arkham Asylum

February 24th, 2011
7:01 pm

@ The Prof: On the subject of teaching life skills to moderate/severely disabled students I would have to say that I agree with you that life skills should be emphasized rather than the Georgia Performance Standards (Given the time it takes for students with moderate/severe developmental disabilities to learn even functional skills.) When one of these students becomes an adult, would you rather they have the skills to go into a store and purchase an item? or the ability (on a good day) to remember that World War II took place in the last century?

the prof

February 24th, 2011
7:35 pm

@Ole Guy…but you sure will accept my tax monies to wipe your A__, which they may already be doing huh?


February 24th, 2011
7:37 pm

#Catlady got it right.” I am willing to bet that there are multiple “bad guys” in this story” You betcha. Did CCSS do their Job? Are SPED Teachers givin proper support? NO and No. No One commenting knows wtf happened. This was pure railroading! PAS This wonderful person didn’t deserve this after 24 years of serving the states mandate. Anyone ever consider the safety of all involved here? Instead of pointing at the bogus conviction by plea bargain Maureen, You should get to root causes, Public K12 is not the place for some of these children, period.

Just a Thought

February 24th, 2011
7:52 pm

In just about every county the Special Ed program is low man on the ladder. Education is a reflection of the larger society. Some people (including some on this blog) do not have compassion or genuine concern for children with special needs. Many EBD children have mental illnesses, have been abused, or have been abandoned. ADHD is an overly used label to be sure but no need to see these children as throwaways.

As much as some of my ADHD students can “challenge” my management skills, I care and love each of them. I would never want to see them harmed or short changed. Even my “thug” students. A LOT of them (emphasis on purpose) have had NO chance in life due to misguided parents and are basically fending for themselves the best they know how (which they don’t know much because they are kids). Once you talk to them one on one they break like babies.

And you know what? All of them EBD, ADHD, and THUG totally respond to someone who shows they care about them. At least in my experience. These are the kids I teach everyday and while a challenge, I know that my kind words and concern might be the only ones they hear that day. I discipline them. And they respect me because I respect the fact that they are people and not just labels everyone wants to define them by. Go figure. This is why I got into teaching, ya know…to change lives.


February 24th, 2011
7:58 pm

Can V be banned?

Tonya C.

February 24th, 2011
7:58 pm

@V is an idiot:

Your son is actually the PERFECT candidate for a self-contained classroom where those needs can be catered to. His behaviors, if consistent, can be a severe disruption to a class of 30 kids. My son was in one for several years, and it is a large part of the reason he is doing so well now. Once he was able to get those behaviors consistently under control, then he could join the masses. He is still in a Resource classroom for LA, because he struggles with that subject.

This is exactly what I was describing. Too many special needs parents see their kids behaviors in a vacuum without acknowledgment of how distracting and disruptive they really are. I sat in on his class more than once, and truly believe that many general ed teachers (especially the younger ones) just don’t have enough experience and training to handle the diaspora of needs in today’s classroom.

Retired Educator

February 24th, 2011
8:07 pm

That’s the same thing Michelle Rhee did to her students and now she is the national model for a super teacher. Her students little mouth’s were bleeding when she had them remove the tape. No go figure.


February 24th, 2011
8:07 pm

There is no justification for using duct tape for behavior management! There is also no excuse for this corporal punishment in schools nonsense to still be legal in Georgia either. Maureen I wish you would post the latest stats from Georgia Public schools to show the public exactly how often this is occurring and the simple fact is there is no uniform way of reporting each incident either. So the numbers are probably falsely low in my opinion. Check out all the rural areas of Georgia – most of them still use this baloney to curtail behavior. It doesn’t work and keep your darn hands, duct tape and wooden boards off the kids! It’s embarassing for my beloved state of GA.


February 24th, 2011
8:09 pm

Ole Guy, if “Little Johnny” can’t use the toilet, can’t speak, can’t walk, and can’t feed himself, much less read and write, precisely what sort of “sound academic preparation” would you suggest his teachers start with?


February 24th, 2011
8:19 pm

You gotta wonder if someone’s been sleeping in a cave for the past twenty years to not realize that taping a kid’s mouth shut, locking them in a closet, etc, etc, will get you fired with a good possibility of jail time.

Of course, duct tape is one of man’s greatest inventions with a million uses. Here’s one:

@ ole guy

February 24th, 2011
8:43 pm

You are a bitter and hateful person. Let me guess- no friends, too? Disfunctional family? I thought so. Do us all a favor and stick the gun in your mouth and pull the trigger, already. You are one hateful person and the world will not miss you one bit. Now, please- pull that trigger….

And Michelle Rhee...

February 24th, 2011
10:42 pm

…didn’t get fired for that little stunt with the tape? Unbelievable! And now she is the messiah-guru of education. LOL, what a country!

My Brothers Keeper

February 25th, 2011
1:50 am

This teacher had been teaching special ED for years. She snapped! I don’t know why. The thing I find odd is the teacher who reported this incident lost there job…whats up with that?

Re: "And Michelle Rhee" at 10:42PM

February 25th, 2011
7:01 am

Let me guess- you are a member of a teachers union?


February 25th, 2011
7:15 am

Tonya C–”diaspora of needs”–I love that description!

Canadian mum

February 25th, 2011
7:23 am

Wow. Bad for everyone involved. I have read through a lot of the comments, and can sense frustration and anger from alot of comments, politely put or not. Quite unacceptable behavior, I agree.

Just for a bit of comparison, in our school division, special needs children are in the school, and participate in some of the age group class activities, but, they have their own teacher and each child has an aid for physical assistance if needed, most would have 2 or 3 kids each. Each participates to thier abilities. These children need an education, whatever that involves, but not at the cost of the rest of the class. We want to include them socially, for everyone’s benefit. It teaches tolerance. Some kids only go to this teacher for behaviour problems, sort of back up for the teacher and do not have an aid as well. It seems to work in elementary schools.
I understand we fund our schools differently, all schools in the province get the same per student, rich or poor, english or french. Special needs students get additional funds as needed. Even severely handicapped kids needing full medical support get to go to school if they are able.. We also are required to provide challenging tasks to advanced kids too, though few teachers complain about the smart kids.

Nothing negative here, just offering another view of how it can be done. I was suprised when I lived in California years ago, that poor neighborhoods had horrible schools, while rich ones had nice ones. I had never experienced this, all our schools were more or less the same. Seems unfair to the kids.


February 25th, 2011
8:56 am

My son went to the feeder school for this high school. His kindergarten teacher wass so abusive that every child in that class was defecating in their pants by the end of the year – a sure sign of abuse. We pulled my son out, told the principal we were firing the school and would not be sending in declarations of intent to home school, because we do not work for the schools. The schools work for us. I very openly homeschooled him all the way to college, and his sister never ented school at all. She wants to go to high school next year (her senior year,) and this is where she would go. We’ve never told either one they have to be home schooled, so of course we said yes. She’s very mature and has always stood up well for herself, so I’m not concerned about how she will manage classes, but after my son’s ordeal, I studied school violence and learned that school violence is almost always top down ( happens in schools where administratin bullies teachers and teachers bully students, who then bully each other) that is precisely what goes on in our county, and there are some famous school violence incidents to prove it. My dd can protect herself aganst teachers like the ones who just got their hand slapped over this case, but can she protect herself against the kid who has taken all he can take and goes ballistic? Of course not. Judging by the exceptionally angry schoolies in our neighborhood, and preesumably every other neighborhood that feeds into this school, that pot is just about ready to boil over.

If that isn’t reason for school choice, I don’t know what is.


February 25th, 2011
9:06 am

Sometimes my girlfriend enjoys a little duct tape.

I cant WAIT for RHEE to get here and begin the well deserved firings.


February 25th, 2011
9:12 am

I pulled my child out of this toxic school district (see above post) but ironically, I also teach the children of htis county, who come to me for living history presentations during field trips. I get as many as 225 students a day, often in double size classes. I get special needs clases as well as regular classes, which are often mixed. I have never had a child I could not manage, without resorting to any kind of ugly behavior. I have however, had teachs who were out of control, disrespectful to both me and their students, and have had to ask two to leave the classroom, because they were disruptive. They do ALL the things you hear about kids with ADHD doing. It’s bizarre, and bizarre how often I see it. Most often though, I see teachers who are incapable of speaking to a student without cutting them down. Their tone of voice alone makes my skin crawl. I have had to alter my presentation so that the first thing I do is tell the teacher to take a break – that I won’t need their “help”. If you ever want to knw how good your kid’s teacher is at class management, offer to teach a class sometime, or have those kids to a birthday party. If the group dynamic is happy and well mannered, you’re dealing with a super teacher. If it is chaoritc, angry and hard to manage, trust me, that comes from that teacher. So all of you who sympathize with your kid’s teacher because her class is out of control, guess what? She is the cause of that.


February 25th, 2011
9:17 am

Wait until you are bitten and then we will talk about why this extreme method was used.


February 25th, 2011
9:32 am

I usually hang out with Momania but this story caught my eye.

I was duck taped, as a first grader, in a private school. The year was 1965. I talked too much,

I am now a national early childhood consultant….I was just getting started in my talking career at age 6 :)

Maureen Downey

February 25th, 2011
9:34 am

@mother, Love when you wander over here, although I know you are a mainstay and a voice of reason at Momania.