The Madison Metropolitan School District has a new policy on restraint and seclusion of students that adds new notification requirements and forbids certain practices.
The School Board unanimously approved the updated policy, which brings the district in line with a state law change earlier this year, on Monday.
“I’m so pleased that we got to do this,” said board member Nicki Vander Meulen, who spoke in favor of the law change at the Capitol last year and helped push for the original state law forbidding inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion years ago.
Under the new policy, districts must report data on use of restraint and seclusion to the board and state Department of Public Instruction, schools will provide a written report to parents after an incident and principals are required to meet with staff or law enforcement who use restraint or seclusion. The policy also limits prone restraints, or those in which staff take a child to the floor to restrain them, and bans the use of rooms with a lock on the door for seclusion.
The update removed words like “reasonable” to describe some uses of physical restraint and prohibits restraints that “obstruct the student’s circulation” like those causing chest compression or placing weight on a student’s throat.
The policy was similar to what the board discussed during a work group meeting earlier this month, but staff added definitions, language clarifying training and debriefing requirements and provisions for students with disabilities.
Examples of when restraint could be considered “reasonable and necessary” include preventing an act that threatens physical injury or obtaining possession of a weapon or other dangerous object a student has. Any staff member must go through a training before using restraint, and the new policy eliminates an exception for “circumstances of an unforeseen nature or in an emergency” when trained employees are unavailable.
The district must notify a parent within one business day of an incident and create an written report within two business days that includes a description of the incident. During the Aug. 3 work group discussion, MMSD associate general counsel Sherrice Perry told the board the new rules had transparency in mind.
“We talk about that and we throw that word around,” Perry said. “This is really putting the money where our mouth is.”
Physical restraint, according to the district’s definition in its policy, is “a restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to freely move their torso, arms, legs, or head.” A brief touch or hold of a student’s hand, arm, shoulder or back to comfort or redirect the student does not fit the definition.
Seclusion is “the involuntary confinement of a student, apart from other students, in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving,” according to the policy.
Data provided to the Cap Times in December showed that in the 2018-19 school year, 324 students were restrained or secluded a total of 1,420 times. Both of those numbers were below the 2017-18 school year, which saw 540 students restrained or secluded 2,482 times.
Most of the students involved, though, were still those with disabilities: 228 of the 324 in the 2018-19 school year, or 70%.
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