December 09, 2009, 10:42AM
FRUITPORT -- A Muskegon-area couple are center stage in a dual-front push to ban the use of restraints and seclusion to control children in public schools.
Alan and Nicole Holden of Fruitport are in Washington, D.C., this week talking with lawmakers about restraints they say their 4-year-old son endured in his preschool classroom. They also are pushing for passage of federal and state legislation that would ban restraints and seclusion in public schools.
“We want to stop the abuse of these children,” Nicole Holden said shortly before she appeared in a press conference Wednesday with two U.S. representatives introducing federal legislation to prevent misuse of restraint and seclusion.
U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., contacted the Holdens through Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, which included the couple and their son, Ethan, in a report issued last week about restraint and seclusion in public schools.
That report, which concluded that Michigan policy against restraint and seclusion is not sufficient in preventing its overuse and abuse, helped prod the U.S. legislators as well as Michigan Rep. Deb Kennedy, D-Brownstown, into action, said Rhonda Smith, communications specialist with Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service. Smith’s organization is federally mandated to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
Last week, Kennedy introduced legislation that would ban the use of restraints and seclusion in Michigan’s public schools. Michigan’s corporal punishment law allows restraint and seclusion to be used if a student’s behavior interferes with school functions and the student has refused to comply with requests to stop being disruptive.
A policy adopted by the Michigan Board of Education in 2006 further limits the use of restraint and seclusion and requires collection of data on each incident, but schools are not required to follow the policy. Michigan Protection and Advocacy said that 22 of 57 intermediate school districts collected data in 2008-09, and they reported a total of 3,222 incidents of restraint or seclusion in 2008-9.
“Psychiatric facilities, jails and even prisons are required to follow regulations and reporting requirements regarding seclusion and restraint,” said Elmer L. Cerano, executive director of Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service. “How is it that our schoolchildren - many of whom are still in elementary school - are not being afforded these same protections?”
Nicole Holden said she was shocked when she visited her son Ethan’s preschool classroom for a Christmas party last year and found the then 3-year-old restrained in a high chair. She said she learned that her son, who has autism, had been strapped into a high chair for about three hours a day for several weeks.
She said she also learned that Ethan tipped his chair several times, sustaining bruises that the staff had told her were incurred on the playground.
“He just wanted to participate with all the other kids in the class and he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t be with the other children,” Holden said of her son, who doesn’t speak.
She said she contacted an attorney and learned there was nothing illegal about what the school was doing.
Holden wouldn’t say which school Ethan attended when he was restrained. They have since moved to Fruitport where their son is thriving, she said.
“He absolutely loves it,” she said. “Fruitport schools’ special education program is outstanding.”