ABC News investigation sparks memories of local case - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

ABC News investigation sparks memories of local case


Rice Lake (WQOW) - An investigation into the deaths of several children across the country brings up memories of a case right here in western Wisconsin. Wednesday night, Nightline will air an ABC News investigation.  It examines how restraints and seclusion have been used to deal with behavioral issues for children with autism or other developmental disorders.

One major concern is there is no agreed upon national standard for teachers or providers.

The ABC News investigation reminded us of seven year-old Angie Arndt.  She died six years ago in Rice Lake. Investigators say she suffocated, after being restrained by a staff member at a clinic.

"She was a great girl, she's greatly missed everyday... it's still hard to talk about," says Donna Pavlik, Angie Arndt's foster mom.  

Not a day goes by that Donna doesn't think about Angie.

"That Tuesday before she passed we had signed a sustaining care contract so she could live with us forever but we could still have help from other people to help support her," says Donna.  

Court records show Angie died after an employee at the Northwest Counseling and Guidance Clinic held her face-first on the floor while holding her legs, and another employee covered her upper body with his for half an hour.

"She had just started, she had only been there six weeks. She went mornings five days a week," Donna says.

Her death led to a 60-day jail sentence for the counselor, and the clinic being shut down.

"It can't get forgotten," says Donna.

It also led to a new state law, Act 125, restricting the use of seclusion and restraint methods for behavioral problems in Wisconsin. It was just enacted in September of this year.

But Wisconsin is only one of 17 states nationwide that has laws in place that restrict the use of force and restraint to control behavior. ABCNnews is investigating deaths across the country because of these methods .

"The concern is well-placed because this continues to be a problem across the country, different kinds of restraints where students end up being suffocated sometimes by big burly teachers and tiny kids are, if not killed, are severely injured or traumatized in ways that are very hard for these students to recover from, so it continues to be a problem," says ABC News' Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross.

Congress has been looking into a federal law that would restrict the use of seclusion and restraint methods, but it's been stalled.

"There's opposition to a federal law that would set standards by the school superintendents who say they don't want a national standard, they want leeway at the local level to use techniques and judgment on their own, they're afraid that if the standards are set, they'll just get in trouble, so they're fighting the proposed law standards right now, and that law is stalled in Washington because of that opposition," says Ross.  

The Disability Rights of Wisconsin Group says while Act 125 certainly helps protect kids and does require training, that training doesn't go far enough.

They say there needs to be more training about disabilities like autism, and there needs to be more monitoring of safety.

The ABC News investigation will air Wednesday night on Nightline, right after our ten o'clock newscast.

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