The use of restraint and seclusion on Madison Metropolitan School District students dropped again in the 2019-20 school year.
District administration reported the numbers to the School Board in an Oct. 1 weekly update, showing a drop from the 2018-19 school year. While the 2019-20 school year was shortened as schools closed in mid-March for the year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the district’s data shows that they were lower over a similar period from the prior year.
The data show 886 incidents of restraint or seclusion involving 222 students last year, down from 1,122 and 252, respectively, from Sept. 1, 2018, to April 7, 2019. Over the entire 2018-19 school year, there were 1,420 incidents involving 324 students.
The report to the board calls the reduction of incidents “encouraging over the past three years … considering that the district observed significant year over year increases in the use of restraint and seclusion during the five years prior.”
As in previous years, the vast majority of the incidents came at the elementary school level, with 821. Of those, 183 students were involved and 129 of them were students with disabilities.
At the middle school level, 34 students (28 with disabilities) were restrained or secluded 60 times. Five high school students (four with disabilities) were restrained or secluded five times in 2019-20.
Both were down from the previous full school year, when there were 106 incidents in middle schools and 53 in high schools.
A new state statute requires annual reporting on the use of restraint and seclusion from principals to school boards by Oct. 1. The district must send the information to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction by Dec. 1.
According to the report provided to the board, “a small number of elementary schools and programs account for the vast majority of the incidents of restraint/seclusion.” The five schools with the most incidents were all elementary schools: Olson (97), Midvale (91), Lake View (90), Kennedy (58) and the LEAP program at Olson (49).
Efforts detailed in the report to “ensure appropriate use of restraint and seclusion” include a transition to a new training program in 2018, every-other-year recertification for special education teachers and student services professionals, additional consultation to schools with the highest uses and additional data reports to aid principals with data reviews.
The Madison School Board updated its restraint and seclusion policy earlier this fall to line up with the new state statute. The update added notification requirements and forbid the use of prone restraints, or those in which staff take a child to the floor to restrain them. It also banned the use of rooms with a lock on the door for seclusion.
“I’m so pleased that we got to do this,” board member Nicki Vander Meulen said ahead of the Aug. 31 vote.
Vander Meulen 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.
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.
Examples of when restraint could be considered “reasonable and necessary” under district policy 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 eliminated an exception for “circumstances of an unforeseen nature or in an emergency” when trained employees are unavailable.
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