November 15, 2009
TOPEKA — Nearly 300 students with disabilities were secluded in the final quarter of the last school year, according to a new report by the Kansas Department of Education.
One child was placed in a seclusion room 15 times in one day, according to the report, which covered the 2008-2009 school year.
Some State Board of Education members said they aren’t happy that children are being isolated, and some question whether the report accurately reflects the extent to which seclusion is used.
“Is there a way of eliminating this as an option?” asked Education Board Member David Dennis, R-Wichita.
The state doesn’t regulate the practice of secluding students, leaving it instead to local school districts.
Several years ago, parents of students with disabilities complained to the Education Board and Legislature that their children were improperly restrained at school.
They asked state officials to put in place regulations and safeguards regarding seclusion and restraints for children with disabilities.
That resulted in the Education Board in 2007 adopting guidelines for seclusion and restraint rooms and requiring that school districts report to the state education agency how many students with disabilities are placed in seclusion, how many times, and for how long.
The guidelines recommend that seclusion be used only as a “behavior intervention strategy,” and not for discipline, punishment or staff convenience. And seclusion for a child with a disability is only supposed to be used if the action is specified in the required individualized education program for the student, and it is necessary to avoid imminent risk of harm to the student or others.
There are also guidelines saying that seclusion rooms must have a ceiling of comparable height to other rooms in the building and comparable heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting.
In the Lawrence school district, 10 of the 21 school buildings have “time-out” rooms, according to Kevin Harrell, special education director. He said seclusion is used only if the parent or guardian agrees to allow it within the student’s individualized education program. The parent or guardian is notified when it is used, Harrell said. He said 12 students were secluded during the last quarter of last year.
“Our goal is not to use it (seclusion),” he said. When it is used, the student is secluded for usually 10 minutes to 20 minutes, Harrell said. And an adult is always nearby to observe the student, he said.
In the annual report given to the Education Board, Colleen Riley, director of special education services for the department of education, said that out of 1,389 public schools in Kansas, 196 reported having a designated seclusion room. That represents 14 percent of schools.
“If it’s not something that is needed in a majority of schools, why is it being used in a minority of schools? It really concerns me when we put a kid in seclusion,” Dennis said.
The report covers only those students with disabilities. From 203 students to 299 students were secluded in each of the quarterly reporting periods during the last school year, the report said. Most were secluded for 30 minutes or less at a time, the report said.
According to the report, there were several times when a student was placed in seclusion more than 10 times in one day, with the most being 15.
Riley said if there are 10 or more incidents per day, education department staff follow up with that school to make sure that seclusion is being used properly.
She said the decision to seclude a student is not taken lightly. “There are some cases where students to protect themselves may need seclusion,” she said.
Education Board member Sue Storm, D-Overland Park, said there are probably schools that seclude students but don’t have an official seclusion room, and therefore aren’t reflected in the report.
“I don’t know if we are getting as accurate a picture as we like to think we are,” she said.
But Riley said she believed the guidelines and reporting requirement were improving the situation.
The education agency noted that all public schools in Kansas are required to respond to the special education seclusion report each quarter regardless of whether any incidents of seclusion for students with disabilities occurred.