Ten months after concerns were raised about Loudoun public school teachers’ restraining and secluding some special education students, the School Board is considering adopting a new policy that details what type of restraints are allowed and prohibited.
The new policy is one five recommendations made to the board by the Ad Hoc Committee on Special Education as part of its preliminary report. The board created the committee earlier this year on the heels of public criticism of how some special education students had been disciplined. It is made up of School Board members, parents, school administrators, mental health professionals and members of the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Council, the Special Education Advisory Council, and the Gifted Services Advisory Council.
The group is asking the board to adopt a policy that states “LCPS authorizes the use of physical restraint and seclusion procedures to manage student behavior,” and goes on to say that these procedures are to be used as a last resort in situations “where the student’s behavior poses a threat of imminent danger or serious physical harm to self or others.” It says, “When possible, less restrictive measures shall be used …”
The recommended policy states that physical restraint shall not include: restraining the student in a chair or wall; restraining the student in a way that prevents breathing or speaking; corporal punishment; mechanical restraint; or using pharmaceuticals to restrain the student. It also states that school employees must be trained annually on safe restraint practices and parents shall be notified when their child has been restrained or secluded.
School Board member Beth Huck (At Large), who chaired the ad hoc committee, explained that the committee voted 15-1-1-2 to recommend the policy, without the support of two Special Education Advisory Council members; Craig Metz was opposed and Sharon Tropf abstained. Huck said they, and some others on the committee, would like to do away with the use of seclusion and restraint all together. School administrators have said those practices are rarely used.
“While doing away with seclusion and restraint certainly is the end-goal, we need to make sure that we’re taking the appropriate steps to get there,” Huck said, noting that she feels step one is first adopting a policy that outlines what is permitted and prohibited, and step two is training employees in best practices. “We want to give staff all the right tools to replace things that are not working.”
Huck stressed that many of the committee’s members want to “significantly reduce the use of seclusion and restraint, if not eliminate them all together.”
School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian), also a member of the ad hoc committee, said she doesn’t know whether the district can ever totally eliminate using those tactics as a last resort. “But we do need to work on how we are educating all of our staff about how seclusion can affect students, especially those with disabilities,” Rose said. “It’s supposed to be a last resort used with trained staff, but certainly not something we’re doing without fidelity.”
School Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said she would like to see a sentence in the policy that states the school division is working toward being a “restraint free” division.
Huck said the committee’s final report in June may recommend that the board adopt that goal as part of its Envision 20/20 Strategic Plan.
Other recommendations as part of the ad hoc committee’s preliminary report are aimed at better documenting practices as it relates to special education students and more opportunities for SEAC members to weigh in on school system policies.
The board is scheduled to vote on the restraint and seclusion policy at its Jan. 8 meeting.