Parents and students can breathe a sigh of relief as new seclusion and restraint regulations are being considered by the Virginia Board of Education.
Prior to 2009, the use of restraint and seclusion had not been regulated in schools and led to the abuse of many disabled students, according to the National Autism Association. Parents like Dina Kimmel found themselves horrified by the treatment of these students in the classroom but new proposed regulations in Virginia will hopefully make a change.
“It is terrible that our kids have been so abused in the school system because of the lack of diagnosis or not understanding,” Kimmel, chief executive officer of We Rock the Spectrum, said. “An educator thinking it’s okay to do that because it’s the only way to get control of them, it’s sad.”
We Rock the Spectrum is a sensory gym franchise, with a location in Williamsburg, that provides a space for children with sensory processing disorders to have a place to play, according to the organization’s website.
In 2015, the Virginia Assembly approved two bills in relation to the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools, said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.
The legislation requires that public schools in Virginia maintain guidelines regarding restraint and seclusion that are consistent with federal guidelines for managing student behavior in emergency situations and the 15 principles outlined by the U.S. Department of Education’s restraint and seclusion document.
What is restraint and seclusion?
Physical restraint is defined as “any personal restriction that keeps a student from moving or reduces their ability to move freely,” according to the Disability Law Center.
While seclusion is defined as “any involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or other area where the student is physically prevented from leaving.”
These two actions can be used in various emergency situations where other interventions would be ineffective. For example, to prevent a student from seriously harming themselves or others or to remove a student from a disturbance.
“There is a way to handle these things appropriately that is not is abusing these children,” Kimmel said. “There is restraining a child and then there is keeping a child safe.”
School divisions are not required to use seclusion or restraint but if they choose to do so, they would have to follow the new regulations.
The legislation comes after a 2009 investigation from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found there were no federal laws in place to keep educators from using restraint and seclusion in abusive methods, according to the NAA.
That study found children, and especially those with disabilities, were being restrained and secluded in public schools and in some cases so much so that it resulted in injury or death. In the study, nine out of 10 cases involved a student with disabilities such as autism, post traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Actions by numbers
In 2015, there were 267,000 cases of restraint and seclusion used in public school systems across the nation, according to NAA.
Pyle said specific divisions, such as Williamsburg-James City County, won’t report data on the incidents until the regulations are finalized.
“VDOE delayed developing the reporting mechanism for these schools while we awaited the outcome of the process to develop regulations addressing restraint and seclusion in public schools in order to have similar processes for reporting for both the private and public schools,” Pyle said.
However, Pyle said in response to public interest, James Lane, superintendent of Public Instruction, directed the department in April to survey 115 licensed private schools for students with disabilities on the number of reports for the use of restraint and seclusion.
The Rivermont School Hampton Roads was one of those schools and was reported to have 220 reports of restraint and 177 reports of seclusion in the 2016-2017 school year. In the next year, the school had 201 reports of restraint and 141 cases of seclusion.
Rivermont School officials were not immediately available for comment. To view the full report, click here. Cases of 10 or less are suppressed to protect student privacy.
The VDOE will vote on the final action July 25. Kimmel said that would be the first step in providing a safer environment for students with disabilities.
“It’s a different world for these parents because you’re limited to where you can take them,” Kimmel said. “If you can’t be an advocate for your child because you’re afraid that you’ll have no where to take them, and it’s terrible.”