Several states consider behavior support revisions

Several states consider behavior support revisions

(Kan.) To clarify what teachers and administrators are allowed to do to subdue a student who is acting out, the Kansas State Department of Education is considering a change in the wording of its policy governing restraint and seclusion.

The change would mean defining what is now simply referred to as a student posing a “threat” to a student that is "harming either themselves or other children." Though it seems like a minor change, critics have questioned whether it will keep teachers from acting quickly enough when necessary.

“I believe that the most defensible justification for restraint and seclusion is a clear and present danger to self and others,” said Terry Scott, a professor and distinguished university scholar at the University of Louisville who specializes in Special Education. “However, this concept in isolation may lead to unnecessary use of restraint given that adults can actually increase the likelihood of dangerous behavior through inappropriate response to students.”

Though strongly discouraged by the U.S. Department of Education, the use of restraint and seclusion is authorized on a state-to-state basis. These tactics are typically used on children with behavioral disorders or other special needs, and can involve using different ways to hold a child until they calm down, restraining them with soft straps, or in rare cases, even duct tape, or securing them in a quiet room.

These tactics may seem harsh to some, but to those dealing with a student who begins hitting themselves or throwing desks, proper training in how to restrain the child is incredibly useful. In a setting where students are awarded for appropriately participating in classroom activities, a student who shows frustration with destructive outbursts can be secluded and monitored until they calm down, but can’t take part in those activities.

According to Scott, part of the problem lies in the fact that these methods are often used as punishment prior to other prevention and de-escalation techniques that could resolve the issue safely.

“Other misuses include application without adequate training, failure to consider de-escalation techniques, and using methods much more intensely than necessary to ensure safety,” he said.

The intense or excessive use of restraining and seclusion techniques has been linked to the deaths of 20 children nationwide,  according to data released in 2009 by the Government Accountability Office, and many parents have reported their children being injured through the use of these methods.

In 2012 the Department of Education issued guidance to states urging them to consider a 15-principle framework when determining when to use alternatives to restraint and seclusion. The principles include refraining from using these methods as punishment or discipline, as a convenience, or as a means of coercion or retaliation.

The guidance also suggests that if a student must be restrained or secluded multiple times within the same classroom or by the same individual, the school should consider revising existing strategies to address the student’s dangerous behavior.

Both of those suggestions were included when Ohio created a policy last year for its districts to follow when using restraint or seclusion. The state didn’t have any restrictions prior to the creation of the new framework.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell in July took action similar to that in Kansas by signing a bill clarifying the state’s vague language around the use of restraints. The law, which went into effect earlier this month, changed language that allowed staff members to use “reasonable and necessary” physical restraint in emergencies and more specifically defined the statute’s ambiguous terms, including "seclusion" and "restraint." It also requires that staff members be trained in the application of safe restraint and seclusion techniques.

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