District reviewing policies on restraint and seclusion
The Pickerington Local School District is reviewing its policies related to the use of restraint and seclusion rooms for special needs students, but first will wait for guidance from state officials.
Since 2010, Pickerington has maintained a policy allowing teachers and staff members to physically restrain students who have disabilities or identified behavioral issues if they pose a physical danger to themselves or someone else.
The same policy allows for those students to be placed in "seclusion" rooms.
Although the policies aren't new and are permitted by state law in schools throughout Ohio, they have come under fire after Columbus City Schools officials in June said two school aides would be fired for allegedly improperly using restraints and a seclusion room against a boy as a disciplinary means.
In that case, the boy's mother said he suffered scrapes and bruises on his arms and neck and a school district investigation determined he hadn't been violent or posed any danger to anyone.
Aug. 13, Pickerington Special Education Director Bob Blackburn summarized the district's restraint and seclusion room policies for Pickerington School Board members and said it was devised under the direction of the Columbus law firm of Bricker & Eckler LLP.
He also said he expects the Ohio Department of Education this school year to provide new guidelines on the use of restraints and seclusion rooms, and the district's policy could be revised based on those directives or if legal counsel feels any portions of the policies should be updated.
"If we need to make adjustments to our policy, we'll be making adjustments at that time," Blackburn said.
Current Pickerington policy states "... there may be times when physical restraint and seclusion may be necessary to maintain the student's safety as well as the safety of others. Physical restraint and seclusion are used to defuse dangerous situations, protect the student and others from injury, and regain a safe, controlled learning environment."
Currently, such measures only can be employed against students with identified developmental disabilities or behavioral issues, but Blackburn said teachers and staff can use restraints or seclusions for any student if individual or classroom safety is in question.
"Currently our policy only addresses students who are identified as having a disability under IDEA (federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to be restrained or placed in seclusion," Blackburn said.
"These intervention options are typically only used with students that have identified behavior issues, which is only about 13 percent of our special education population.
"However, restraint can be used on any student regardless if they have a disability if they pose imminent danger of harm to himself (or) herself or others."
"Physical restraint" is defined by district policy as "... any method of one or more persons restricting another person's ability to move his or her arms, legs, torso or head freely. It means controlling that person's movement, reconstituting behavioral control, and establishing and maintaining safety for the out-of-control individual, other individuals, and school staff."
Seclusion is defined as "... the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. This includes situations where a door is shut, as well as where the door is blocked or held closed by staff.
"District staff must continuously observe any student in seclusion both visually and aurally for the entire period of the seclusion. Occasional checks are not acceptable."
The policy states students, in general, should be kept in seclusion 15 minutes, or 1 minute per year of age of the student.
If "appropriate behavior" isn't displayed after that fixed time, "... intervals of 3 minutes may be added until appropriate behavior is exhibited."
Blackburn said teachers and staff are trained about when and how to use restraint and seclusion techniques.
District policy states teachers and staff who restrain a student or place a student in a seclusion room must document the incident within 24 hours.
It also requires the district to inform the student's parent, parents or a guardian about the use of restraint or seclusion on the day of the incident.
If a parent or guardian can't be contacted that day, the policy states the district must attempt to inform them of the incident the following day, as well.
"We will continue to review our policy and align it with any guidance we receive from ODE regarding restraint and seclusion," Blackburn said.
"Restraint and seclusion are intervention options on a continuum of possible behavior interventions only to be used when the student poses serious danger to himself and others," he said.
"They are used to defuse the dangerous situation and protect the student and others."