Shabazz hallway (copy)

Current MMSD policies say that reasonable restraint may be used by school employees "when necessary to restrain, remove, or disarm students whose behavior presents a clear, present, and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others."

Much has been asked in the Madison community about when it’s appropriate for school staff to lawfully restrain a student after an altercation between an 11-year-old girl and positive behavior coach at Whitehorse Middle School in February. A question-and-answer session set for April 16 might provide some answers, according to organizers.

The panel is being hosted by Urban Triage, First Unitarian Society, the Community Response team and several members of the Building Capacity to Protect Black Children. Organizers hope the event will give a clearer understanding of how schools make a decision to use restraint or other physical contact with a student, particularly with students with special needs.

The event will be held at First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, at 6 p.m.

“Our ultimate goal in this particular event is to create a space and an opportunity for community members and parents to gain an understanding of the policies and laws that govern IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and 504 plans as it relates to restraint and physical contact, in hopes of having different parts of the system explain their policies and their areas of expertise,” said Brandi Grayson, the executive director of Urban Triage. 

A 504 plan is a plan developed to make sure that a child with a disability attending school receives accommodations that ensure access to learning and academic success.

“The state and federal policies say a person must have a clear, present and imminent risk to restrain a kid, but that’s only the broad definition. That’s a subjective definition," Grayson said. "Children are left unprotected, in a sense that it’s always a teacher or staff member’s perception that determines what’s a clear, present and imminent risk.”

MMSD's use of restraint policy states that reasonable restraint may be used by school employees "when necessary to restrain, remove, or disarm students whose behavior presents a clear, present, and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others," and is necessary "only when it is the least restrictive intervention feasible."

Only district employees who have received training on the use of restraint are allowed to engage in the restraint.

Grayson, alongside Matthew Braunginn, a senior associate with the Mayors Innovation Project at COWS, will facilitate a panel that will include representatives from the Madison Metropolitan School District and the community. Wright Middle School Principal Angie Hicks and Blackhawk Middle School special education teacher Michael Jones will speak on the panel and coordinator of intensive support and critical responses Brian Holmquist. Jasmine Zapata, a pediatrician, will also be on the panel, as well as Freedom Inc. co-executive director M. Adams.

Grayson said it’s important for people to be able to talk about how chronic trauma can lead to certain outbursts and behavior in schools and that policies have to acknowledge it.

“This topic is important because parents need to know their children’s rights and how to hold school districts accountable if those rights are violated,” said Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, a civil rights attorney who will also be on the panel. “This is especially true for children of color and children with disabilities. My hope is that parents will come away from the program with better information and tools to advocate for their children and hold school districts accountable.”

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Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/Channel3000.com and at POLITICO.