Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series about discipline in Maine schools.

The Maine Department of Education is on track to adopt significant changes early next year in the state’s rules on physically restraining and secluding schoolchildren, according to department officials.

They met recently with about 25 educators, children’s advocates and others who offered suggestions on how to change rules that many say are unclear, lack necessary oversight and are potentially harmful to kids.

“The rules are now over 10 years old, and we feel they should be updated with the times,” said Jill Adams, executive director of the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, which proposed sweeping changes to the regulations.

Physical restraint and seclusion of schoolchildren, including the use of face-down holds and time-out rooms, have been in the national spotlight for more than a year.

Congress is considering legislation that would establish the first minimum federal standards for how teachers can restrain or seclude students; a Senate version was introduced last month.

The federal legislation follows a May 2009 report that found that hundreds of children had been abused as a result of inappropriate restraint or seclusion in public and private schools — and some had died.

It’s unclear how many restraints occur in Maine or the United States each year, or how many of them have resulted in injury or death, because federal and state education departments don’t keep track. Education officials and others said that no deaths from restraints or seclusion have been reported in Maine schools.

The Maine Department of Education issued an administrative letter in September reminding district superintendents that it “strongly supports the effort to prohibit” restraints that result “in the student lying face down on the floor while pressure is applied to the student’s back.” The agency had sent a similar letter in July 2009.

This issue pertains to all students, parents and school personnel in Maine. Under the Education Department’s rules, special education students may be restrained by trained staff members if that is allowed in a student’s individual educational plan. Under Maine statutes, any school staff member may restrain any student as a means of “reasonable force” to control a disturbance.

Changes in Chapter 33 of the department’s rules have been in the works since May 2009, when a bill to prohibit face-down physical restraints failed to win support in the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

The committee asked the department to review its regulations and investigate disparities in how physical restraint policies are implemented across the state.

Last week’s meeting moved the department closer to making rule changes to better define, document and control the use of physical restraints and seclusion in schools, said David Stockford, the department’s policy director and team leader of special services.

“We got significant input from a diverse group of people,” he said. “We believe we are in concert with what they are proposing at the federal level.”

Some of the people who attended last week’s meeting wanted to help develop the new rules, so department officials are considering how best to do that, said David Connerty-Marin, department spokesman.

The department may hold additional meetings to seek further input, or it may invite the interested people to help write the new rules.

“This is the first time that the department is considering consensus-based rulemaking,” Connerty-Marin said. “Ultimately, the department has the final say over whatever changes are proposed.”

Before adopting rule changes, the department must hold a public hearing on the proposed changes and respond in writing to any amendments suggested by the public, Stockford said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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