Parents appeal ruling on son's suicide at alternative school

More than four years after 13-year-old Jonathan King hanged himself using a rope his teacher had given him to hold up his pants, his parents will ask an appeals court to overturn a judge's ruling that their son's alternative school held no fault in his death.

Oral arguments are scheduled for this morning at the Georgia Court of Appeals. Jonathan's death, said E. Wycliffe Orr Sr., attorney for Don and Tina King of Murrayville, has "been very devastating to them, as you would expect, to this day."

Jonathan attended the Alpine Program in Gainesville, an alternative public school program in North Georgia that serves students ages 5 to 21 with severe behavioral or emotional disabilities.

He died Nov. 15, 2004, in a small seclusion room, which the school used to help students regain control if they became a physical danger. According to court documents, Jonathan was put in the room following an outburst that included violent behavior toward another student. A teacher asked if he needed to take away the rope but Jonathan said he intended to behave.

The use by institutions of seclusion rooms has drawn national attention.

A report in May by the federal Government Accountability Office found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death over the last two decades related to the use of seclusion and restraint of school children. No federal laws restrict the use of these methods in schools but U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), as chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, has called for one.

Jonathan's parents argue their son's treatment at the school was unconstitutional and the school failed to protect him from self-harm.

Hall County Chief Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller in January disagreed and dismissed their lawsuit against Alpine and the Pioneer Regional Education Service Agency, under which the program operates.

The Kings also sued Georgia's Department of Education, but Fuller last year ruled the department was not mandated to create seclusion-room regulation.

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