November 29, 2012

Our View: Do new rules make school discipline harder?

Educators complain that restraining disruptive students has been made needlessly difficult.

Let's take it as a given that teachers and school administrators must be able to intervene physically when students' actions become disruptive or dangerous to themselves or others.

That also includes action to protect school property or the personal effects of educators and other students.

In other words, to deal with a student who is out of control there has to be an intermediate stage between calling the police and doing nothing or using only verbal means.

However, physical intervention ought not pose a danger of physical harm to the student involved, or expose those who do intervene when necessary to retribution or excessive administrative burdens.

Therein lies the current difficulty a substantial number of Maine educators say they are having with Maine's state regulations involving such interventions, which fall under the general category of "restraint."

Nationally, students have been injured (and a few have even died) from rough treatment from school personnel who were trying to restrain them.

But teachers and administrators have suffered harm in many cases from out-of-control students, too. And the possibility of legal action always exists when someone believes mistreatment has occurred.

What's happening in Maine, however, is that state rules were recently revised to increase reporting and follow-up requirements when restraint, which also includes physical isolation, is used.

The experiences of some educators since that change occurred has led a number of educational groups, including the Maine Education Association, which represents teachers, and the Maine School Management Association, to question current policies.

They say educators now are hesitant to defend themselves against hostile students, or otherwise intervene physically in cases where they routinely did so in the past, because the paperwork and subsequent investigations required by the new rules are highly burdensome, taking too much time away from other duties.

Still, state officials say that the new rules were designed by a variety of stakeholders, and so any changes to them must come from lawmakers. So some legislators say they will try to alter the rules in the coming session.

Either way, the best interests of both students and those responsible for them need to be protected.


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