September 27, 2013

Maine data on student restraint, seclusion to help guide policies

The state gets its first batch of data on physical control of students as it works to define best practices for safety and teacher training.

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

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20130926_ Seclusion
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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

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A total of 47 staff members were reported as injured.

In special-education programs, two to 18 students were injured and 42 staff members were injured, according to the data.

NEED MORE TIME TO SEE PATTERNS

Portland, the state's largest school district, reported 77 instances of physical restraint involving 24 students, and 79 instances of seclusion involving 17 students.

In South Portland, Superintendent Suzanne Godin said that, like Lewiston, her district has behavioral programs in the schools that skew the numbers.

South Portland reported 193 restraint incidents involving 34 students, and 144 seclusions involving 18 students.

"Seclusion sounds terrible, but it's a way to keep a student safe, and a move prior to restraint," she said. "Some students want that time out so they don't escalate."

With so many districts not reporting, the overall data isn't complete enough to allow any conclusions or comparisons, she said.

"It's really a snapshot. What we'll want is to look at data over the next three years and see what is driving that number," Godin said.

Reilly said the Maine Disability Rights Center is glad that the data is being collected and is broadly available.

"It's a really good step," he said, but it will take a year or two to see patterns. "I don't think this is the sum total of all restraints and seclusions. I think seclusions are under-reported."

The state overhaul established a new complaint process for parents, who can file complaints with the state if reporting at the local level doesn't work.

So far, not one has filed a complaint with the state regarding restraint and seclusion, said Warren.

"Hopefully (that) says the local process is being taken seriously and as a result, effectively serving students and families," she wrote.

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

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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