Government

Judge: Iowa Boys State Training School wrongly 'punishes or tortures' students

Federal ruling says state school must rid of device called 'the wrap'

The administration building at the Boys State Training School in Eldora on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gaz
The administration building at the Boys State Training School in Eldora on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

The state’s Boys State Training School violated students’ constitutional rights by not providing adequate mental health care, using isolation as punishment and putting students in a mechanical restraint device called “the wrap,” sometimes for hours at a time, a federal judge has ruled.

“Defendants insisted through trial ... that the school only employs these devices in situations involving risks of harm to students or staff,” U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose wrote in the 116-page order filed Monday. “This view ignores overwhelming evidence showing the school frequently punishes or tortures students through these tools for behavior not meeting such conditions.”

The order came nine months after a nine-day bench trial in June in the class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 by two then-students and other “similarly situated” boys of the school in Eldora.

The school, run by the Iowa Department of Human Services, is charged with treating and providing educational services to delinquent boys between 12 and 18. Defendants in the suit are Human Services Director Kelly Garcia, Cory Turner, the interim Mental Health & Disabilities Services director of facilities, and Mark Day, the training school superintendent.

Rose ruled the school violated students’ 14th Amendment rights to due process and issued a permanent injunction to improve conditions at the school.

Within 45 days, school administrators must submit a plan to the court for how they will provide psychotherapy needed by some students, ensure confidentiality of students’ mental health records, develop a support plan to help suicidal students and arrange community-based mental health plans so students can continue treatment after discharge.

Students may be placed into seclusion rooms or the Behavioral Stabilization Unit only when their “behavior poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to any person,” Rose ordered. This means that students can’t be secluded for destroying property or stealing, unless it threatens serious harm to a person.

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“The school shall not use the wrap,” Rose ordered, referring to a mechanical restraint device that consists of a mattress on a metal bed frame with a 14-point restraint made of Velcro straps. Court testimony revealed the wrap had on occasions been used punitively and for hours at a time.

“The wrap shall be removed from the School no later than ten days from the date of this Order, and all students at the School shall be notified immediately, both orally and in writing, that the wrap is no longer to be utilized by the School,” Rose ordered.

DHS spokesman Matt Highland said Tuesday the state is reviewing the court’s decision and consulting with the Iowa attorney general to determine its next steps.

Disability Rights Iowa, which filed the suit along with national group Children’s Rights, said the court order “vindicates many boys who have suffered mistreatment and lack of treatment at this facility for far too long.”

“We are hopeful that, with the court’s oversight, the state of Iowa can make the necessary changes in the days ahead,” said Nathan Kirstein, lead counsel at Disability Rights Iowa. “We applaud the court’s decision, and its commitment to the health and safety of children in state care.”

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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