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February 8, 2013

Head proposes rules on time-outs, restraint

Cass County’s state Senator is calling for the state legislature to require schools to develop policies on the use of seclusion and restraint.

Local educators say they’re way ahead of him.

Sen. Randy Head, a Republican, introduced Senate Bill 345 to require school corporations, including charter schools, to develop a policy that reduces the use of physical restraint or seclusion when students become aggressive.

The state autism commission, of which Head is a member, reviewed evidence of the “horrible, but unintended consequences restraint and seclusion can have,” he said.

So he wants to require schools to state how staff will promote appropriate student behavior; to outline intent to use prevention, positive behavior intervention and conflict de-escalation before resorting to seclusion or restraint; and to guarantee that if seclusion or restraint is used, it’s only as a last resort for safety reasons, after some other procedure has already been used.

The Indiana Department of Education already publishes a four-page document of policy guidelines for the use of seclusion and restraint, but it’s a recommendation.

“The Department of Education says ‘may’ and we say ‘shall,’” explained Head on Thursday.

He hadn’t read the IDOE guidelines, so he couldn’t outline any differences between its guides and the rules he’s proposing, but he said the bill will also require schools to report all use of seclusion and restraint to the IDOE so the department can begin tracking it.

“I think that they’re very rare already,” said Head. But he’s trying to avoid what’s happened in other states — where untrained people “that act in good faith” take actions that have unintended consequences.

“Most schools do it right, I think,” he said — adding that when he was “principal for a day” at one of Logansport’s elementary schools, the procedure they followed for putting a student in time-out would comply with the rules he’s proposing.

“They always have somebody in there observing the child,” Head explained. “It’s not a situation where the child is left alone and could harm themselves.”

Logansport schools already have a policy against unreasonable force and fear as a school discipline practice. It restricts reasonable force and restraint to situations where someone’s physical safety is compromised.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t have the policy, to make sure that everybody’s properly trained, because kids’ safety is very important — and actually the safety of everybody,” said Michele Starkey, superintendent of the Logansport schools.

Three supervisors at Logansport Area Joint Special Services Education train teachers and support staff at 10 area school corporations on the proper use of seclusion and restraint.

Melanie Green, one of the LAJSSE supervisors, said the training she administers using curriculum from the Crisis Prevention Institute focuses on avoiding those measures.

“Ninety percent of that training is prevention techniques and understanding levels of crisis so that you can intervene early and appropriately,” said Green.

She and the other two trainers take new staff members through an initial two-day training. Then everyone goes through an annual half- or full-day review.

LAJSSE staff don’t have exact figures on how often seclusion or restraint is used in Logansport schools.

“It goes in cycles,” said Cinda Milan, another LAJSSE supervisor and trainer. “There might be a time that you might have a restraint a couple times a week, and then there might be several weeks where you don’t have any.”

However, each school does keep tabs on its time-outs, including who’s in time-out and for what purpose.

“When you think of the schools, you’re not hearing that there’s lots of restraining going on in the schools,” Milan added. “There’s very little happening.... I hope that the public knows that.”

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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