Changing How A School Views Child Restraints
Over the last few months, much attention has been focused on the use of restraints in public schools following a report about abuses at the Peck School in Holyoke.
Back in December, the Disability Law Center found that students were being improperly restrained for disciplinary reasons, rather than because they posed an immediate public safety threat. The state’s report into the allegations found that there was “a systematic failure” at all levels in the Peck School, including a lack of training for staff about how to properly use restraints.
Holyoke School officials say they have taken steps to correct the problems, but it led us to think about schools that have been moving away from using restraints, which led us to Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia. They began implementing a different approach 20 years ago to address disruptive behavior — focusing on positive interventions and using restraints as an absolute last resort.
Cyndi Pitonyak, technical assistance associate with the Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence.
- “There are certain images that really stick in my mind. I remember very early on in my first days at the school, walking down the hallway and hearing a staff person called an interventionist screaming very aggressively at a student who was seated in his chair, threatening to physically restrain him. I remember seeing a fourth grade boy face down — being held down to the floor — face pressed into the floor. This was a child that I knew already had experienced significant trauma in his life…Another child reported to me that he had been closed in a dark closet. So these were not isolated incidents. This was a pattern. These were systemic issues that I saw when I was there.”
- “‘In particular, three students were restrained more than 20 times and one student was restrained more than 50 times,’ the report says. Restraint was often not justified, the report says, and the use of excessive restraint was blamed on poor training and lack of oversight.”
- “All of these professionals expressed a deep concern for the restraint practices at
TIP. They reported the culture of violence among the interventionists (as well as other staff) and
that de-escalation measures are not consistently implemented before putting hands on children in
an aggressive manner. They also reported that staff are physically aggressive with the students
and when the students fight back they are arrested for assault.”
- “HPS is taking multiple steps to support its staff in their efforts to reduce the use of restraint … The Peck principal has appointed a restraint review team to review restraint documentation weekly and provide the principal and director of special education with ongoing updates about their findings. In addition, this team will provide feedback to the staff at both Peck and TIP at Peck to refine and improve behavioral interventions so that fewer restraints are required.”
- “There are times when emotionally, behaviorally and medically challenged students need to be prevented from hurting themselves, classmates and teachers. School professionals should continue to embrace positive behavior management tools, but they should also be highly trained and skilled in using safe restraint techniques when dangerous situations arise.”
- “Public school staff will no longer be able to restrain students in immobilized, face down positions, in most cases, or place a student in a time-out outside of class for more than 30 minutes without a principal’s approval. The new regulations, notably, include the previously absent requirement that schools and programs must report all uses of physical restraints to the state on an annual basis.”
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