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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Individual Rights Versus the Public Good

     The parents of the child with autism in Hartford, Connecticut, were convinced that he should be in the classroom with other students. He had shown a tendency to be violent at an early age, but by 2002, when in the seventh grade, he was unusually large and increasingly prone to violence. He began attacking other students without provocation. He kicked the teacher and, a few days later, punched her in the face. The school told the parents that he had to be removed to an environment where he couldn't injure others. Asserting their legal rights under federal law, they refused. His conduct grew worse. He bragged about hitting the teacher, and started throwing furniture. The sense of urgency increased. "It is very difficult to control him while he is throwing furniture," the teacher's report stated. "He is a grave danger to other children, paraprofessionals and the teachers."

     The class practiced evacuation drills so that they could move quickly when the attacks started. But no one at the school had the authority to send him to a special educational setting where there was more control. Under federal law, the school had to institute formal legal proceedings and receive a formal order from the judge. The parents, heedless to the terror felt by the other students, demanded that their child stay put. The teacher took a leave of absence. After almost two years of legal hearings and thousands of dollars of expense, the school finally received the final order in the spring of 2004 that the child was unsuited to be in the classroom with other students,

      Fairness is an important goal for Americans. But what happened in Hartford, Connecticut doesn't bear much resemblance to fairness. Disruption is by definition abusive, even if at the hands of someone who can't help himself. But no one in the school had the authority to weigh the needs of the individual against those of the rest of the school community--at least not without drawn-out legal proceedings.

Philip K. Howard, Life Without Lawyers, 2009 

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