Parents of special education students and school administrators continue to weigh in on the proposed policy before the Loudoun County School Board that will set guidelines for the restraint and seclusion of students.
The board is scheduled to vote Jan. 8 on a policy recommended by the Ad Hoc Committee on Special Education, but school leaders are still debating what type of parameters the policy should set for restraint and seclusion practices.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Special Education is a 19-member working group created by the School Board to scrutinize the school system’s special education practices and recommend improvements. The board created the ad hoc committee after the school system was accused of restraining special education students and secluding some students for hours at a time.
At a School Board meeting Tuesday, Asia Jones, assistant superintendent of Pupil Services which oversees special education, asked that the policy include a sentence that states that “LCPS is working toward the elimination of the use of seclusion and restraint procedures while recognizing they may be used as a last resort in limited situations.”
Members of the Special Education Advisory Council also requested an amendment to the policy, which they said doesn’t go far enough.
Sharon Tropf, vice chairwoman of SEAC who also sits on the ad hoc committee, presented recommended changes to the proposed policy at the board’s meeting. Among their recommendations is a request that the policy completely prohibit the use of seclusion. Tropf noted that the proposed policy as written does a good job of defining restraint, but does not provide the same level of specificity for seclusion. “This is a significant area of concern for SEAC,” she said.
She cited a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that counted 13 cases of seclusion in Loudoun County schools, all special education students. She said that SEAC has identified many instances where seclusion and seclusion-like practices has been used without justification—“That is, where there was no imminent threat of danger or serious risk of physical harm.”
She said SEAC is in support of behavior management techniques recommended by the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, also known as PBIS, which suggests “cool down” areas that are not locked but still allow for a situation or student’s emotions to de-escalate.
Noting the list of amendments that SEAC and senior staff members want to make to the proposed policy, School Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run) suggested sending the policy back to the ad hoc committee to find language that more stakeholders can agree on.
“I am not comfortable voting on what I would consider to be a bad policy that way it is,” Maloney said. “We can try to amend it from the dais, but I think it would be better to have that discussion with the experts you have on the committee, with a SEAC representative there.”
But the majority of board members voted to continue working on the policy at the full board level. Ahead of the Jan. 8 vote, Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) asked board members to do their homework—talk to members of SEAC and the ad hoc committee—and to send any suggested amendments to their board colleagues in advance.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of sausage making on the dais, but I think it is an important topic that we need to move forward with,” Morse said.