February 19, 2013

Maine bill would loosen definition of 'restraint' for teachers

Backers say the current reluctance to intervene is leading to property damage and staff injuries.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Restraining students

Do teachers need fewer restrictions in how they may physically intervene when dealing with a disruptive student?

Yes

No

View Results

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Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Under existing language, a teacher who touches a student without the student's permission -- even, for example, to pick up a first-grader who is having a temper tantrum -- meets the definition of "restraint." That triggers paperwork, a group review committee, notification of parents, reports to the state and the creation of a plan to avoid a future situation.

Previously, the definition of "restraint" was largely considered to apply to more extreme situations in which a teacher felt compelled to use physical force to regain control of a seriously disruptive student, usually a special education student. The current rule applies to all students.

Restraint techniques can range from teachers using their hands to physically move a child, wrapping their arms around students from behind in a seated "basket hold" or placing students face-down on the ground to physically control their bodies.

In more extreme situations, a student could be put in seclusion, defined as alone in a small room designated for that purpose.

Both sides of the issue agree that there is still a need for restraint and seclusion with some students. The recent debate has centered on situations at the lower end of the scale: A student ripping down posters in a classroom, or a young child refusing to come in from the playground even after the bell has rung.

Both of those examples have been pointed to as examples of a gray area, when the child and educators may not be in "imminent danger" but the situation is disruptive and could call for physical intervention.

Davis said educators should be working on prevention efforts, not loosening the definition of restraint. That said, she understands the teachers' concerns and supports more training about the existing rule.

"Now they are dealing with problems like a student is acting out and they need to shepherd them out of classroom and it becomes 'restraint.' They're freaked out about what to do," Davis said. "And I can see why that's confusing. The department (of education) needs to create better guidance.

"I hope common sense prevails."

The U.S. Department of Education published a study last year estimating there were 38,792 cases of student seclusion or restraint in the 2009-10 school year.

More than 30 states have passed restraint legislation, and federal legislation has been proposed.

The public hearing will be held at 1 p.m. before the Education Committee, in Room 202 of the Cross Building.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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Today's poll: Restraining students

Do teachers need fewer restrictions in how they may physically intervene when dealing with a disruptive student?

Yes

No

View Results