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Officials Outraged After City
Handcuffs Ridgewood Boy

By Nathan Duke

January 31, 2008

Western Queens elected officials called for an investigation last week at a Ridgewood school after a 5-year-old who had apparently thrown a temper tantrum was handcuffed and taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center for a mental evaluation.

Officials said they were shocked to hear that PS 81 kindergartner Dennis Rivera had been put in handcuffs by a school safety agent after he was believed to have misbehaved in class. The boy's family could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman for the New York Civil Liberties Union said Dennis suffered from speech problems, asthma and attention deficit disorder.

"This should be a wake-up call to the mayor, the City Council and the Department of Education - there is a crisis in our schools," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. "Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable to imagine a 5-year-old in handcuffs, but since school discipline has been turned over to the NYPD, behavior problems have turned into criminal matters and youth of color and children with disabilities are paying the price."

The city's Department of Education said it could not comment on a pending investigation. The Police Department could not be reached for comment.

On Jan. 17, Rivera was reportedly handcuffed after he was believed to have thrown a tantrum in his kindergarten class, state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said. The boy was then taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center for a mental evaluation, she said.

"Is there a reporting responsibility on the school to notify the New York State Department of Education in the case of such punishment and referral?" she said. "Are there regulations regarding restraints in kindergarten and were they followed?"

According to published reports, the boy was not released by the school to his baby sitter when she came to pick him up at the end of the school day. The boy's family has since removed him from the school and placed him at a local private school, according to the reports.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) said she believes that safety must be maintained at city schools, but there are parameters for punishing children of such a young age.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.