Parents arrange forum on ‘seclusion room’ policies
Published in the Eagle Times June 4, 2012
The recent use of seclusion rooms within Springfield schools has led concerned parents to organize a special forum this week to better learn about the latest Vermont statute regarding use of restraint.
Parents and guardians have scheduled an open meeting on the use of restraint and seclusion in district schools beginning at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Springfield Unitarian Universalist Church on Fairgrounds Road. The meeting will feature a presentation from the Vermont Disabilities Law Project regarding the new rules on restraint and seclusion in Vermont schools.
Districts statewide adhere a 2011 policy set forth by the State Board of Education calling for all schools to have staff members trained in the proper method for restraining a student. The policy comes after a nationwide movement to ensure schools were not using the rooms inappropriately after other states reported incidents of children hurting themselves in a locked space.
The education department has recently worked with Springfield educators and sent trainers to the town’s schools to increase support for the rules even prior to receiving complaints from parents about the misuse of the seclusion rooms.
After completing an investigation on April 26, the Springfield School District admitted some of its employees failed to follow proper disciplinary rules regarding the use of seclusion rooms in an announcement from Superintendent Frank Perotti Jr. The statement reports faculty members at Elm Hill Primary School “did not always completely follow state disciplinary regulations” and vowed to make the necessary changes through new training and policies .
The investigation came following allegations of misused seclusion rooms where faculty members placed children in padded, secure rooms at the Elm Hill Primary School and the Union Street School in March.
The Springfield School Board responded during a March 12 meeting by imposing a moratorium on the use of the seclusion rooms for discipline and to remove the doors to the rooms at Elm, Union, Riverside and Gateway schools.
Susan Dreyer Leon, the mother of a special needs student at Elm Hill School, said she was deeply concerned about the lead-up to teachers using the rooms within the district. Families in town deserve schools that operate within the law to protect children from harm, she said.
“I think many parents in Vermont are taken by surprise with the new law [that] suddenly gives school districts permission to restraint and seclude children, and it’s interesting because I feel like Vermont actually has one of the strictest laws on restraint and seclusion in the country and many states have no laws,” Dreyer Leon said. “The goal of this meeting is to try and make sure parents have a complete understanding of the law. There’s been a lot of confusion [because the law is new.]”
Marilyn Mahusky, staff attorney with the Disability Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid, said in a letter dated May 3 the reports of a seclusion room are shocking, but not surprising.
“Shocking because the children are so young — between the ages of five and eight, from kindergarten through second grade. Not surprising because, unlike in hospitals, nursing homes and mental health facilities, the use of restraint and seclusion is permitted in our schools,” Mahusky wrote in the letter. She is expected to attend tomorrow’s meeting as the speaker for the project.
“Under Vermont law, seclusion may only be used when a student’s behavior poses an ‘imminent and substantial risk of physical injury to the student or others.’ Reportedly, children at Elm Hill were restrained and secluded not to prevent risk of physical injury, but as punishment for such relatively minor offenses as talking back, throwing a pencil and disrupting class,” Mahusky added.
Speaking with the Eagle Times on Thursday, Perotti said the district plans on attending the open meeting and participating in the conversation.
“Community conversations are a good thing and we’ll certainly be partnered to that,” Perotti said. “I view it similar to the public conversations the school board sponsored through our public policy committee. Conversation is good — the more we talk, the more we understand and the more people learn. And the more that people learn and understand, the better.”
Parents unable to attend the meeting but wish to learn more about the use of restraint and seclusion may contact Mahusky at (800) 769-9164 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Eagle Times. Visit the Eagle Times website to comment.
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