Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
Lori Prichard reporting
produced by Kelly JustSALT LAKE CITY -- The Granite Police District and the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) are investigating how a Rifton chair is being used in a special-needs preschool class.
The school district says the student's family was told that the chair was being used. The family says it had no knowledge of the chair until the 4-year-old came home one day with bruises.
The chair is called a Rifton chair. You may see them in special-needs classrooms all across the state.
Rifton chairs have straps at the waist and legs, and often a tray. The manufacturer's website says the chairs are intended for children with disabilities who need help with posture, but the 4-year-old's West Valley family believes the chair was being misused to restrain the child.
The family tells KSL the 4-year-old boy came home from preschool on May 6 with bruises. The boy's family asked we not name the child, who attends a special-needs class at Harry S. Truman Elementary School in West Valley.
The school sent home a note with the boy the next day saying he "was pinched by a belt buckle in a Rifton chair on his left side above his hip."
The boy's teacher also left the following voice mail: "[Child's name] was throwing another tantrum and he got pinched with a buckle. He was helping me put it in and his skin got caught in it. So, he's OK. We put some ice on it. I just want you to be aware of it. So, he has a little bruise where he got pinched on his left side just above his hip."
The boy had been attending preschool class at Harry S. Truman since Feb. 8, 2010, according to his education file we obtained from the family. In those four months he's been attending class, family members say this is the first time they've heard of a Rifton chair.
The 4-year-old would not have been able to tell his family about it. He is not able to speak due to his disability.
"We have received no notification. We have not been informed whatsoever on any behavioral or discipline or therapy uses that this chair would ever hold," said the boy's aunt, who helps take care of the child while his father serves in the military.
KSL asked the Utah Board of Education about the chair's intended use.
"It's used for positioning children who need support in order to sit up," explained Christine Timothy, an education specialist for sensory and significant disabilities.
We have received no notification. We have not been informed whatsoever on any behavioral or discipline or therapy uses that this chair would ever hold.
"If they don't have that ability to sit up, and then they start sliding down, then that helps them to stay in an upright position," Timothy said.
But after seeing the child, it's evident he does not need support. He can sit up on his own.
"We were thinking what else could this be used for? Is there something we don't know?" the child's aunt asks.
In our research, KSL found that there have been lawsuits across the country over the Rifton chair's use. In Wisconsin, state education officials issued a stop order to all school districts that were using the chair as a behavioral restraint. [CLICK HERE to read Wisconsin education officials' letter about Rifton chairs]
KSL wanted to know if the Granite School District was using the chair similarly.
"Are these Rifton chairs being used as restraint?" KSL's Lori Prichard asked.
"No. Restraint as in?" said school district spokesman Ben Horsley.
"Restraint of a child," Prichard clarified.
"No. Not at all," Horsley said.
Horsley refused to allow KSL to speak with the witnesses involved, but he did say that the family knew the chair was being used.
"She was aware of the situation," Horsley said.
However, the family flatly denies that they were told about the chair.
"We searched every page for any mention of restrain[ing] him or needing therapy," the boy's aunt said, in regard to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
KSL read through the boy's entire education file. That file includes his IEP progress report, classroom health care plan and registration form. We saw no documentation regarding the use of a Rifton chair, other than a copy of the May 7, 2010 note sent home with the boy stating he was pinched by a buckle in a Rifton chair.
However, since the school district's launch of an investigation, the boy's teacher did submit a statement to the school district indicating she spoke with the child's legal guardian regarding the use of the Rifton chair, and the guardian did not raise any objection.
Also, the teacher indicates she showed the Rifton chair to the child's guardian on March 10, 2010 when the guardian attended a SEP conference. Again, though, none of that information is documented in the child's file.
"He likes to get in this chair and sit there," Horsley said.
The teacher's statement to the district calls the Rifton chair a "calming place" for the boy.
Concerned about the use of the Rifton chair, family members say they called the child's doctor.
"He said, ‘Get that child out of that school immediately. He is not to return. There's no way he's going to learn anything while being strapped to a chair,'" the boy's aunt said.
The boy has since been pulled from Harry S. Truman Elementary, according to his family.
With regard to the use of the Rifton chair, KSL spoke with multiple experts in the field of occupational therapy, physical therapy and special education. Those we spoke with insist that if any sort of mechanical restraints are used, there must be documentation.
However, when we spoke to state education officials, they told us that if the child is sitting in the chair without any encouragement and buckling the strap himself, there is no need for documentation.