Feb 20, 2011
Why Oregon needs to keep its schools healthy, safe and inclusive.
DRO regularly receives call from parents who have just learned that their son or daughter has been involved in a physical incident in school. Sometimes this involves a teacher or teacher’s aide who has locked a child in a room or closet. Sometimes the child has been tied or handcuffed to a chair. Sometimes the police have been called. Sometimes the child has been tasered.
When we receive these calls, we first investigate to find out what happened. We look to see if the child has been deemed eligible for special education services and whether the child as an IEP (individualized education program.) If so, we see if the program includes a behavioral plan. For special ed students, we often find that there is no behavioral plan or the plan in place is inadequate. We also find that school personnel have not been trained to understand and apply behavioral plans. This is not true in all cases, but in many.
Our view is that no-one benefits from physical conflicts in schools. School budgets may benefit in the short run from skimping on training or keeping a child locked in a room rather than providing an adequate level of staffing, but this undermines the quality and trust placed in a school. We also think that a school that fails to inform a parent of such an incident is harming the student, the parents and the community. If, for example, your child was tazered in school and the school didn’t tell you, how would you and other parents feel about it?
DRO worked with the Oregon Department of Education to create administrative rules that set standards for the use of seclusion and restrain of students. But four years later, we found that most schools were not complying with the rules. So we have now suggested legislation to require schools to have written policies, provide training, keep data and inform parents of incidents.
This past Wednesday, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 2939. This followed the release of a study by DRO which sets out the problem and proposed solutions, and a press conference on Tuesday featuring the parents of a child who has been secluded and restrained.
At the hearing, DRO attorney Chris Shank testified about the need for the bill and how the McMinnville School District achieved a dramatic reduction in use of seclusion and restraint by implementing best practices. Committee Co-Chair Sara Gelser asked why the bill forbids use of “prone restraint.” Chris said that this practice restricts breathing and has resulted in deaths. This concern as confirmed by another witness whose company trains teachers in appropriate intervention techniques. This witness also noted that forbidding the use of prone restraint does not penalize a teacher if a student ends up in prone position temporarily.
A union representative testified that staff need training and injuries need to be documented. She seemed to blame all problems on school administrators and lack of funding and be concerned that staff may be scapegoated.
Dr. Jeff Sprague from the University of Oregon testified about the success of using positive behavioral interventions and supports to keep students and teachers safe. The parent of a child who had been strapped to a chair for full school days in order to keep her from wandering (without informing her parents) gave articulate and affecting testimony.
There were very few questions from the committee members. The politics of this bill are that nobody wants to embarrass school districts and districts do not want to publicly state that restraining and secluding students is alright. However, the quiet lobbying that occurs out of the public eye will emphasize that districts face tough financial pressures and do not want to be regulated by the state. There will also be push-back from those who do not want children with disabilities in regular schools. Yes, there are plenty of those folks still around.
The bottom line for me is that yes, we do ask a lot of our schools and, as we see playing out in Wisconsin, some citizens believe that we should get everything we want without having to pay for it. But what our schools have been able to do for people with disabilities has been truly revolutionary. We have been able to put aside expensive institutions, expand employment and social participation and bring down the costs of social dependence by educating and integrating children with disabilities as early as possible.
Education benefits all students and their families as well as our broader economic and social well-being. Applying what we have learned through experience and research to keep schools safe is a win-win. And providing schools with adequate resources to do the job is, um, a no-brainer.