Saturday, September 13, 2008

In Defense of Waukee Elementary School?

Reposted from Families Against Restraint and Seclusion
by Jennifer SearcyCo-Founder/Contributing Editor
Families Against Restraint and Seclusion/PA Families Against Restraint and Seclusion

A number of individuals have been writing responses defending the actions of the Waukee Elementary School - that this was a "new" behavioral intervention, that teachers were unfamiliar with it, and that had Isabel's parents only sent Isabel to school the next day, staff would have followed a "new, different procedure," supposedly one that was more appropriate.

Reading through all these defenses, I felt compelled to write a "defense" for Waukee of my own. Please bear with me a moment, and just continue reading.

For arguments sake, let's agree that the "time out room" was appropriate to prevent this little girl from harming herself or others, because if used differently it could very well have been appropriate ("could" not necessarily "would" - and I'll explain how a little later).

We'll also ignore the fact that this room is where the child began her day - that the chair, desk, and any educational materials that may have been in the room were removed to turn this room into a "time out room."

I'll also concede that this was amongst the first days that this "intervention" had been used (though I seriously doubt it, only by the fact that that child knew EXACTLY what was expected of her and acting accordingly), and staff members were in a "trial and error" process to see how successful this type of intervention would be, so I'll give them some leeway for that (though I shouldn't because it is the legal responsibility of schools to supply and provide "highly qualified" - ie. well trained - staff), and we'll also ignore the fact that the little girl knew EXACTLY how she was expected to sit to show she was ready to show "compliance," which was with her legs folded in the middle of the floor, as indicated in the little girl's behavior plan - and the fact that she attempted to show IMMEDIATE compliance when first locked in that empty windowless room and attempted to show "compliance" by sitting as instructed over and over again during the course of those 3.5 hours.

What can't be ignored is that she was locked in that room for over 3 HOURS!!!!

When staff noticed that the "intervention" was "not working," they were obligated to abandon this intervention or modify this intervention. If this little girl was such a problem, so violent and out of control (yeah, that's EXACTLY how she looked when first placed there in the video) the parents should have and could have been called, perhaps they could have been asked to take her home until a more appropriate plan could be decided upon (though this is not a recommended "intervention" either, because behaviors may be repeated or escalate to get the desired reward, "going home"), and an emergency IEP meeting to reopen the behavior plan should have been requested.

Now, this could have been a success - had staff done the following:

Been trained in the use of how this intervention would work and to recognize that as soon as that little girl sat down on the floor calmly in the manner in which she had been instructed, that she WAS COMPLYING with her behavior plan.

She was no longer a threat to herself or others - which is what the use of seclusion was for - and she should have been rewarded for being compliant - ie. praised or thanked for sitting where she was supposed to, etc. to reinforce this desired behavior. This isn't rocket science but common sense.

Instead, sadistic staff kept that little girl locked up because she didn't sit still for a specified length of time.

Neurologically, developmentally, and according to baseline data that SHOULD HAVE BEEN COLLECTED IN ADVANCE, this child may not have been physically able to sit for that specified length of time.

Again, that child showed IMMEDIATE compliance and was no longer a threat, and should have IMMEDIATELY been removed from that environment.

The parents did NOTHING wrong by removing that child from school nor giving the school a chance to "correct their problem."

These are children we're talking about here and what they did to her was abuse - no excuses needed nor required. It is because the family removed the child from school and exposed this practice that may hopefully bring about change. Had the family not removed her, they would have been condoning the actions of the school, and the school would have no motivation for changing their actions.

Put simply, I don't believe there was a plan to rectify this situation because personal experience with a similar-minded school indicates otherwise.

As a parent, I must put my faith in those professionals whom my tax dollars pay to educate my children. I must trust that staff are appropriately trained to educate ALL children, not just those on the autism spectrum or with specific disabilities, and that my child will not come to harm by being in a public school, as is her legal right.

Unfortunately, my child, who also has epilepsy and has had life-threatening seizures, was RESTRAINED in a public SCHOOL while in SECLUSION.

According to my state laws, this is ILLEGAL and is morally and ethically wrong.

Her neurologist has agreed that it is unsafe to return her to her school district. UNSAFE!

Because staff and administrators will not take advantage of FREE TRAINING offered by my state nor guarantee they will abandon these illegal practices.

I hope and pray no one else has to go through what my child and my family have been through, but I know that hopes and prayers are not enough.

More than that, I'm actively trying to do something to change how our "educational system" operates, just as this family is by coming forward with their "story."

Therefore, I will stand beside beside these parents in their fight against those who feel that schools should be allowed to continue with these barbaric practices in the name of "appropriate education" and will continue to fight this prejudice and injustice with every fiber in my being.

I can only hope that others will join us.

For anyone interested, you can read the transcript of the 10 day testimony, and subsequent judgment clearly in favor of the parents here:

Note about the author:

Jennifer Searcy is the mother of four daughters, ages seven through 13. Her nine year old daughter was diagnosed with epilespy at 15 months and PDDNOS by age 2 1/2. This daughter was illegally and inappropriately restrained in a public school on October 17, 2006 at age 7.

She is also a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, holding a bachelor of science degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in psychology, and was a co-founder of Families Against Restraint and Seclusion and Pennsylvania Families Against Restraint and Seclusion. She is currently the Founder and Director of Public Policy and Affairs for The Coalition for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

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