Kentucky considers rules for handling unruly children

9:16 AM, Nov 13, 2012   |    comments
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By Jessie Halladay | The Courier-Journal

As a kindergartner, Janet Board's grandson kicked chairs, broke pencils, threw things.

His family didn't fully understand his behavior, which they now know stems from Asberger's syndrome and other disorders. But they're convinced school employees didn't help by carrying him when he refused to come in from the playground, pinning him to the floor when he was uncooperative or putting him in a utility closet transformed into a time-out room.

"It's just so detrimental," Board said of the tactics used in her grandson's Meade County public school. "I don't like what he went through, and it was unnecessary."

Meade County Superintendent Mitch Crump said he was not familiar with the case of Board's grandson, but that staff members receive training in restraint tactics and are required to document each incident of restraint or seclusion.

Board said once the Department of Protection and Advocacy intervened, the school district worked with her family to try to improve the conditions. She said her grandson is now 12, doing well in school and teachers work better with him.

While there is no Kentucky law governing how schools use restraint or seclusion, more efforts are being made to guide schools on properly using restraint and seclusion tactics with seemingly uncontrollable or difficult to manage children.

The state Department of Education, for example, is proposing administrative regulations creating guidelines for the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, as well as requirements for training teachers on de-escalating and other techniques, and practices for informing parents.

The regulations would allow physical restraint of students only when the child's behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm.

"The only intervention the proposed (Kentucky) regulations prohibit are those types of restraints that have been proven to kill children," said Lucy Heskins, attorney for the Kentucky Department of Protection and Advocacy. "The regulation does not prevent teachers from breaking up fights or intervening with students who are misbehaving or destroying school property."

The Kentucky Department of Protection and Advocacy late last month issued a booklet aimed at educating the public about restraint and seclusion in schools. The booklet documents cases from around Kentucky where children were harmed, as well as places where restraint tactics have been used properly and successfully.

Marsha Hockensmith, director of the Department of Protection and Advocacy, said the booklet is meant to illustrate the need for strict guidelines on using restraint and seclusion.

In the past five years, the department has gotten more than 100 complaints regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools in 63 counties. The department has investigated more than 80 cases of injuries allegedly caused by those restraints or seclusion.

No Kentucky deaths have been documented and Congress' Government Accountability Office in May 2009 reported at least 20 child deaths as a result of restraint and seclusion.
The regulation's next step is consideration by a legislative subcommittee, expected sometime in the coming weeks.

Support has not been universal for the proposed new rules.

Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said many school officials and teachers fear that strict language spelling out the "imminent danger of serious physical harm" is too restrictive.

"What we fear is that staff members will be very reluctant to step in and use any restraint," he said, adding teachers will worry about being second-guessed about the seriousness of the incident. "We think this will ultimately create conditions in schools that are more dangerous."

Sears agreed that training and some guidelines about when restraint or seclusion can be used is needed, but he argues it should not be so specific.

"There are times in schools when restraint is necessary," he said.

But in the absence of any state laws on the the tactics, Katie Bentley, whose son, Will, was routinely restrained and secluded during his 21/2 years in preschool, said parents have little to lean on when they feel their children are being treated inappropriately in classrooms. 

Bentley said the tactics worsened Will's seizure disorder and prompted an anxiety disorder. But because Will did not speak until nearing the end of pre-school, he could not tell his parents what was happening.

Once Will began to talk, Bentley said, he told her that hadn't been allowed to go outside with the other children. She started asking him questions and learned he often was separated from the others. She said Will has learning disabilities that make it hard for him to complete certain tasks, and the seclusion and restraint were used by his teacher as an attempt to motivate him to move faster or perform better.

"I'm appalled that we don't have" regulations, Bentley said. "If we'd have had a guideline, Will wouldn't have gone through what he went through."

Bentley said her son's teacher never reported when Will was separated from classmates, put in a closet, had his fingers pinched or was held down on the floor. Under the proposed regulation, schools would have to report to parents anytime restraint or seclusion was used.

Tracy Mann, assistant superintendent at Kenton County schools, said she could not comment on any case related to a former student. But she said the district has written procedures for using restraint and seclusion. Additionally, she said forms are filled out for school officials and sent home to parents when incidents occur.

Now 9, Will is home-schooled and can read but still battles fears and anxiety.

"They have set us back years with Will," Bentley said. "This is just not kids who misbehave. We have to protect all children."

The Courier-Journal

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