WASHINGTON -- Cedric Napoleon suffered so much abuse in his young life that, at age 14, he was already experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, an affliction often associated with soldiers at war.
By 2002, he was under the care of a foster family and attending middle school in Killeen, Texas, in a class with a special education teacher. That's when his troubled childhood took an even darker turn, lawmakers learned Tuesday in a hearing about school discipline.
Acting out in class one day, Napoleon, 129 pounds, was pinned to the floor by his 230-pound teacher, who lay on him to quiet him down, federal investigators say. When she got off, or soon after, he was dead.
"If that teacher was just doing her job, then something is very wrong with the system," Toni Price, his foster mother, told a congressional committee.
Her testimony came on the same day government investigators released a report that found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse of children, particularly those with disabilities, arising from the practice of restraining or confining pupils in the classroom.
The litany of cases prompted Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., to ask: "Do we need anti-torture legislation for our schools?"
In one instance, a 4-year-old autistic girl born with cerebral palsy was strapped to a chair for throwing tantrums when she needed to use the bathroom, according to findings by the Government Accountability Office. She came home with bruises on her chest, calves and wrists, her mother told investigators.
In a separate case, a 9-year-old boy with a learning disability was placed in a "time out" room 75 times in six months for such actions as whistling and waving his hands. He got blisters at least once for trying to escape from the room, the report said.
At least 20 deaths since 1990 were attributed to restricted breathing tactics used as school discipline, the report said.
In one instance, Gaydos said, a teacher took Paige, who was then age 7, to an empty classroom after the child became agitated. "There, she grabbed Paige's wrists in her left hand, forced them up between Paige's shoulder blades, grabbed Paige's left ankle in her right hand, lifted her off the ground, and drove her headfirst into the ground."
Paige, now age 15, has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. She now lives in Monument, Colo.
Gregory Kutz, the GAO official who presented the findings at the House hearing, said no federal laws limit the use of restraints or seclusion in public or private schools. Nineteen states have no laws that restrict either practice, while eight states specifically ban restraint that restricts breathing, he said.
As the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said the panel would look into ways to limit the use of restraints and seclusion.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, the committee's top Republican, said teachers must have safe ways to intervene if students get out of hand. But leaving them alone or restricting them in a way that makes it hard to breathe goes too far, he said.
"This is child abuse, plain and simple," McKeon said. "And it has no role in our nation's schools."
In Napoleon's case, government investigators said the death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury did not indict the teacher.
A judge found that the teacher used excessive force on the child and was reckless in her actions, the report said.
"The teacher also ignored pleas and warnings that the child could not breathe and continued to hold him after he became still and quiet, the judge noted," the report said.
"If I'd treated Cedric that way, I'd be in jail," said Price, who appeared with a framed photo of her son.
The teacher now works at Park View High School in Sterling, Va.
GAO referred the Texas case to Virginia authorities for their investigation, officials said. The Loudoun County School System learned of the case on a tip late last week, and the teacher was placed on paid administrative leave.
She was never charged with a crime in Texas, so nothing showed up on a background check, school officials said. The school system is now investigating whether or not the teacher was forthcoming on her application, which asked if she'd ever been investigated for child abuse.
Gaydos sued Paige's teacher, multiple school officials and the school district. The family was eventually awarded $260,000, according to the report.