Statement on Xavier Hernandez


Take Action! Tell federal legislators to support the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA), by completing this action alert.

We at the Autism Society of Texas are saddened by the death of Xavier Hernandez, a 21-year old man with autism who was physically restrained in Boulevard Heights School (Fort Worth I.S.D.) and then later died at the hospital. 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. Restraints are restrictions that immobilize or reduce the ability of a student to move their torso, arms, legs, or head freely. As we all know from painful recent events, control techniques such as chokeholds and face-to-the-ground (also known as prone restraint) can impede breathing and have deadly consequences. Restraints should not be used in lieu of evidence-based practices such as redirection and de-escalation techniques that all staff working with special populations, such as special education students, have been trained in. 

Restraining students in Texas schools is not a new or isolated issue. According to a recent Disability Rights Texas report using the most recent available data, Harmful Restraint of Students with Disabilities in Texas Schools, students with disabilities represent approximately 9.8% of the state’s school population, but they experienced 91% of restraints in Texas’ public schools during the 2018-19 school year. Also noted in the report, the use of restraint is an issue of equity and a disproportionate number of children of color are restrained each year in schools all across Texas. Black students make up only 12.6% of the state’s student population, but make up 26.1% of the total restraints. This places disabled students of color at exponentially higher risk of being restrained, and of being injured or killed when these dangerous techniques are used. 

The Texas Legislature has effectively banned seclusion, which was most frequently used in conjunction with restraint. However, while the Texas Legislature has failed to address the use of restraints on school children, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has the ability to provide guidance to school districts on safe alternatives to restraint. Unfortunately, TEA has declined to do so. Luckily for Texas students, a new law (HB 785) has given TEA the directive to address this issue in part, but there is still so much work to do. In addition, each school district in Texas has the ability to stop chokeholds and prone restraint by directing and training their staff in safe alternative techniques. The passage of a law is not necessary for school districts in Texas to ban these practices – only the desire to protect students and acknowledge the disproportionality of the use of this practice on students with disabilities and students of color. Lastly, a recent bill (SB 69) signed by Governor Abbott in June eliminates the use of chokeholds and other similar neck restraints by law enforcement officers, including School Resource Officers (SRO’s), in acknowledgment that this practice is unacceptable and can result in asphyxiation. 

Our thoughts are with Xavier’s family and those left to mourn his tragic loss. We must take these thoughts and turn them into action. We absolutely must ensure that any person responsible for teaching and providing support to students with disabilities, especially individuals with autism, refrains from using these dangerous techniques. Therefore, we call on:

  • Every school district to ban the use of chokeholds and prone restraints of all students and ensure every staff member is trained in alternative safe techniques;
  • The TEA to provide clear guidance to all Texas school districts on alternatives to using restraints in both agency rule and in the next Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) plan; and
  • Governor Abbot to issue an executive order to ban the use of chokeholds and prone restraints in public schools, which aligns public school practices with the recently signed SB 69, eliminating the use of chokeholds and other similar restraints.

This is not just a problem in Texas. It is a nationwide concern, and the Autism Society of America is working in conjunction with all of its affiliates to pass the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA), which would make it illegal for any school that receives federal funds to seclude a child or use dangerous restraint practices that restrict breathing, such as chokeholds or prone restraint. To help in supporting KASSA, please complete this action alert.


The Autism Society of Texas (AST) works to improve the quality of life for all Texans with autism by offering innovative, person-centered support to people impacted by autism and their families. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects 1 in 54 Texans, as well as their parents, caregivers and friends. We offer assistance through a myriad of services and programs related to advocacy, recreation, education and support. We work in partnership with our community, seeking input from individuals with autism to advise our decision-making and offering comprehensive education and training so that communities may become more inclusive. 

Resources:

Stop Hurting Kids: https://www.stophurtingkids.com/faqs

Civil Rights Data Collection: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/restraint-and-seclusion.pdf 

Are there Better Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint?: https://www.cmhnetwork.org/news/are-there-better-alternatives-to-seclusion-and-restraint/

These schools did away with seclusion and restraint: https://www.chicagotribune.com/investigations/ct-seclusion-restraint-alternatives-grafton-20200413-bfw7u2srpbao3pffhcjdnhr2qq-story.html 

Contact the Autism Society of Texas at advocacy@texasautismsociety.org or (512) 479-4199, Ext. 10.