PHYSICAL RESTRAINTS IN SCHOOLS - By Gerry Huber, Advocate
Maine Department of Education regulations allow for the use of “therapeutic restraint” in situations when necessary to prevent injury or harm to the student or others. Many districts view the use of restraints as an indication that the school has failed to develop and implement an appropriate educational plan for the child in question. Advocates believe that parents should similarly consider use of physical intervention with their child as a “red flag” suggesting something is lacking in the educational program their child is receiving.
Children who are eligible for special education must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). That plan should address problematic behaviors in a comprehensive behavior intervention plan. If the school does not have the appropriate expertise available to develop the plan themselves, the plan should be developed with the input of outside professionals who are knowledgeable in the field. The plan should emphasize positive supports aimed at reducing or eliminating problem behaviors. The behavior plan should be detailed in the overall IEP and should be implemented by all staff consistently.
Every school district must have a written policy on restraint use. The policy must adhere to state regulations that require that incidents be documented thoroughly and that parents be notified with each use of restraint “as soon thereafter as practical.”
Districts are required to ensure that individuals who implement or who supervise the implementation of therapeutic restraint have completed an appropriate training program. Appropriate training is defined as a program in the “identification and de-escalation of potentially harmful behaviors and the safe use of passive physical therapeutic restraints.” Examples of such training programs include NAPPI, Mandt, and Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Training. There are others as well. Local districts can choose which program they wish to implement to meet the training requirement.
Some states have banned the practice of prone, or face down, restraints due to death and serious injuries that have occurred. Prone restraints are not currently banned in Maine, although many of the training programs cited above rule out the use of prone restraints in their curriculum. Parents should keep informed about all restraint practices employed with their children. Any parent would be well within their rights to insist that some practices, such as prone restraint, be deemed inappropriate for use with their child.
If a child has been restrained in a school setting, we suggest that the parents discuss the issue with school officials. Parents should insist on the development and implementation of a plan for appropriate and positive interventions that will reduce negative behaviors and that will teach appropriate replacement behaviors. A parent should be looking for the elimination of physical restraints altogether, through use of the positive supports.
If the school’s current team doesn’t have the expertise to address a challenging situation, a parent has the right to and should ask the school to bring in an outside consultant who is skilled at developing creative and effective behavior intervention plans.
The Disability Rights Center shares the concerns of many Maine families regarding the extent to which restraints are used in school settings. We believe the current regulations are in many ways overly broad and do not sufficiently protect the health and safety of Maine students. DRC is exploring policy interventions to address these issues, and would welcome the input and ideas of families whose children have been restrained in school settings.
If your child is experiencing physical restraints in school and you need assistance in working with the school district to eliminate the use of those restraints, feel free to contact us at 1-800-452-1948 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. If your child experienced physical restraints in the past and you want to share your experiences and ideas on how restraints in school settings can be eliminated, please email us at email@example.com or write to us at DRC, P.O. Box 2007, Augusta, ME 04338.
If you want to review the State’s school related restraint regulations, they can be found on the web at:
http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/rules/05/chaps05.htm (Chapter 33).
Gerry Huber is an advocate at DRC who provides educational advocacy.