Saturday, March 8, 2014
By Noel K. Gallagher firstname.lastname@example.org
Maine schools reported that more than 850 students were physically restrained and hundreds were placed in seclusion in the last year, according to the first statewide data on the sometimes controversial methods that schools use to handle out-of-control students.
This "Thinking Room" at an elementary school in Southern Maine has bean bag chairs and mats for problem kids to sit in seclusion and think about their behavior, according to the school's principal. Maine schools reported that more than 850 students were physically restrained and hundreds were placed in seclusion in the last year, according to the first statewide data on the sometimes controversial methods that schools use to handle out-of-control students.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
The information, released Thursday by the state Department of Education, is part of a years-long effort to more closely define what constitutes restraint and seclusion, describe when a teacher is allowed to restrain a student, and spell out mandatory reporting to parents, local school officials and the state.
Educators say that in some cases, restraint or seclusion is needed as a way to give children "time out" periods or keep them from hurting themselves.
Maine overhauled its rules and definitions of restraint and seclusion in the past three years, after a public outcry. Among the changes is a requirement that schools report incidents to the state annually.
For the first reporting year, which ended June 30, 92 of the state's 171 school districts submitted data. Among those that did not report are larger districts, including Biddeford.
The districts that did report had 3,752 instances of physical restraint in the past year, involving between 860 and 1,220 students, according to the data.
Those districts reported 1,405 instances of seclusion, involving between 277 and 533 students.
The numbers may be higher because schools with fewer than 10 students involved reported their numbers only as fewer than 10, and were not more specific.
Because the data covers only one year, it's too soon to draw conclusions from it, said children's advocates and education officials.
There's no way to compare the data directly with data from other states, but the handling of out-of-control students is an issue nationwide. More than 30 states have passed laws regulating restraint, and federal legislation has been proposed.
In March, the U.S. Department of Education published a study that estimated there were 38,792 cases of seclusion or restraint in the 2009-10 school year.
Restraint is defined as using physical force to move a student or keep the student somewhere against their will. It can range from giving a flailing student a bear hug to forcing a child to lie face-down on the floor.
Seclusion is defined as a student involuntarily being alone in a specific space, sometimes in a specially designed room with nothing in it that could cause injury.
Maine changed its definition of restraint at mid-year to say it does not include momentarily touching a student or putting an arm around a student's shoulder to walk them down a hall.
The change may explain why the first set of data varies widely. Some school districts were essentially over-reporting incidents early in the year, officials said.
Regional School Unit 23, which includes Old Orchard Beach, reported 249 restraint incidents with 40 students, and 114 seclusions involving 15 students.
Superintendent Patrick Phillips said the numbers reflect a large district with many students who have behavioral issues, being taught in the legally required "least restrictive" environment.
Also, the district was aggressive in reporting incidents under the new definitions.
The state data separates the numbers for day treatment centers, which serve special-needs students who may be more likely to need restraint.
Those 23 centers reported 1,477 seclusions involving 105 to 145 students, and 7,923 instances of physical restraint involving 523 to 571 students.
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