When students are unruly to others or threats to themselves, how far can the School District go?
The Muskego-Norway School District has developed a new policy on what the law calls “seclusion and restraint.”
The policy had its first reading before the School Board this week. Those interested still have a chance to weigh in before the official vote, which will come at a future meeting.
Ted Gennerman, coordinator of pupil services, told the Board that the new policy on seclusion and restraint is modeled after a new Wisconsin law. The law, he said, was a “compromise between two groups.” Some advocates and parents wanted School Districts to be banned from using any seclusion or restraint on students. Others felt you “couldn’t guarantee the safety of students if you can’t use seclusion and restraint,” he said.
The new policy and law ensure that districts can only use seclusion or restraint in “very specific circumstances.” Only trained staff can implement the procedures and there is a rigorous process for informing parents. There are also new reporting forms and timelines.
The district has already had two of its staff trained as trainers. Over 90 staff members have been trained in crisis prevention and intervention, according to Gennerman.
In the past, parents would sometimes be notified with just a phone call. Now the district will have to fill out forms and notify them in specific ways and under specific timelines.
Gennerman said the district took great care to match the new policy with the law, which just passed late last year.
In both cases of seclusion or physical restraint, the student’s behavior must now present a clear, present and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others and the seclusion or restraint must be the least restrictive intervention feasible.
Seclusion is defined in the law as the “involuntary confinement of a student, apart from other students, in a room or area from which the student is prevented from leaving.”
In the case of physical restraint, the law states that “the degree of force used and the duration of the physical restraint do not exceed the degree and duration that are reasonable and necessary to resolve the clear, present, and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others.”
In the policy and law, the district can not use restraint techniques that do not protect the student’s head, that involve chest compression, that involve pressure on the student’s neck, head or throat, or that otherwise obstruct the student’s breathing.
Corporal punishment – defined as intentional infliction of physical pain used as a means of discipline - is not allowed. That would forbid such things as slapping and physically painful positions. Mechanical or chemical restraint can not be used.
“We have to make sure we are being proactive,” Gennerman said. “We have to make sure we are being clear with parents. There are specific training requirements. Each school must have a staff member trained.”
Parents must be notified verbally within one day if seclusion and restraint is used on their child. A written report must be completed within two days and available to them within three. On an annual basis, the district must report the number of affected students to the School Board, breaking out the number of children with disabilities.
Although the law mentions them, Gennerman said the Muskego-Norway district has no seclusion rooms.
Upon a question from a Board member, he said the district had not tracked the number of students affected before. “There was a need to restrain students on occasion,” Superintendent Kelly Thompson told the board.
The state law followed a series of recommendations on seclusion and restraint from the state Department of Public Instruction in 2005. However, those were not binding.