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Local Special-Needs Student’s Death Linked to Illegal Restraint

Education

Fort Worth Boulevard Heights | Image by Fort Worth ISD

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Fort Worth police disclosed to a local news outlet that employees of the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) restrained a special needs student last year in a manner that may have caused his death.

Xavier Hernandez, a 21-year-old FWISD student, reportedly diagnosed with autism and schizophrenia, attended Boulevard Heights, a school for students with intellectual disabilities and severe behavioral issues.

After allegedly attempting to leave his classroom on March 1, 2021, Hernandez was subdued by two FWISD employees who used a potentially unlawful face-down restraint, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

While restraining Hernandez, the two employees noticed his breathing had slowed and his lips had turned blue. They immediately called 9-1-1.

Hernandez died that day at a hospital in Fort Worth. Medical examiners declared that the physical restraint contributed to his death, along with an anti-psychotic medication he was on that can function as a sedative.

While the district claimed that the type of restraint used on Hernandez was not included in the district’s training program on safely restraining students, an FWISD employee at Boulevard Heights asserted that Hernandez was allegedly subdued in such a manner at least a few times a week.

One of the employees who restrained Hernandez that day claimed that he and other staff members often had little choice when dealing with the student.

“He was like 6 foot, 230-240 (pounds),” the employee reportedly stated. “He was a grown man, 21 years old.”

He further claimed that it took several staff members to hold Hernandez down and that none of them had done anything to obstruct his breathing.

Police investigated the incident but ultimately did not arrest the two FWISD employees, as the prohibition on “prone or supine floor restraint” is part of the Texas Education Code and not necessarily a criminal matter within the jurisdiction of the Fort Worth Police Department.

After Hernandez’s death, the Autism Society of Texas lamented, “No individual should die from being restrained, ever. It is especially troubling when this occurs in a place where children and young adults should feel safe and supported.”

Advocates for people with special needs or intellectual disabilities have long argued against certain methods of restraint that can be especially dangerous, even lethal.

Disability Rights Texas stated in a report that “restraint techniques known as prone and supine utilize movements that result in staff taking a student to the ground either facing down or up. Prone and supine restraints constrict air passages and cause death for many reasons.”

FWISD officials told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that one of the employees is still working at the district. The other is not.

An investigation by the Texas Education Agency is ongoing, given that potential legal liabilities lie within the state’s education code.

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