HARPSWELL — In response to questions this week about safety concerns over students being placed in a seclusion room at Harpswell Community School, School Administrative District 75 issued a letter to the public Friday.

“There have been reports in the media in recent days regarding the use of the ‘Quiet Room’ at Harpswell Community School, as well as discussion regarding seclusion spaces in schools around the state,” said interim Superintendent Robert Lucy.

The Times Record published a story Thursday about a mother worried about the safety of the room. Kendele Ouellette said her eldest son was placed in the room on a hot day last school year. She said she met with school staff who agreed on improvements to the room and to make parents aware of the room’s existence. Against her wishes, she said she found out her eldest son has been placed in the un-altered room this school year.

School officials declined to comment on Ouellette’s specific claims, citing student confidentiality. Lucy said the district uses physical restraint and seclusion according to its policy and procedures and state law, and only in emergency situations.

“We want you to hear the facts from us regarding these rooms, and the limited circumstances in which they are used in the schools of MSAD 75,” Lucy wrote in his letter addressed to the SAD 75 community. “As parents/guardians and members of the community you should be aware that physical restraint or seclusion are used very rarely, and only in emergency circumstances where a student’s dangerous behavior presents an immediate risk of harm to the student, other students or staff members.”

According to Lucy, Maine has developed strict regulations around the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, referred to as Chapter 33 rules. District staff are trained in what is called the Mandt System, he said, “which is a state-approved program of behavioral interventions that incorporate a focus on de-escalation and principles of positive behavior support along with training on safe techniques for restraint and seclusion, which are implemented only as a last resort. The district’s paramount concern is at all times student safety.”

Lucy said that each of the eight schools in the district has a designated space that can be used if seclusion is necessary.

“The rooms themselves comply in every regard with state regulations regarding those spaces,” he writes. “They are approximately 8 feet by 8 feet in area (some are larger), with adequate light and ventilation, have a door that cannot be locked, with an unbreakable window through which a child can be observed at all times. There is nothing in the room that can be used by a student to cause bodily injury to himself/herself or others.”

In response to questions that have arisen about the use of these rooms, Lucy said the rooms are not used to address student non-compliance, not to discipline a child, not to address tantrum behavior, profanity, verbal aggression or to address property damage or destruction that does not put people at risk.

The room is used if a student’s behavior poses a danger to the student, other students or staff members.

“What that generally means is that the child is attacking or attempting to physically attack adults or peers and cannot be de-escalated to the point of being safe, or is putting his/her own body in danger,” Lucy said. “When a child’s behavior is unsafe, temporary seclusion, under the supervision of trained personnel, can be a much safer alternative (for the child as well as the adult) than holding a child in restraint until he/she is de-escalated and safe.”

He said the rooms are used under constant supervision through a window in the door by at least two adults, with the lights and a ventilation fan kept on at all times.

“If seclusion in a room becomes necessary, an adult calmly lets the child know that the door can be opened when the child demonstrates a safe body,” Lucy writes. “Instructions are given as to what that means.”

A second adult keeps notes regarding what is said by the child and adult and keeps time. The door is opened as soon as the child demonstrates the ability to be safe, and the incident is reviewed with the child. Later, a detailed support plan is developed for the child to avoid such incidents.

“By policy, every time there is an incident of either restraint or seclusion, the parent is notified that same day, typically by phone, and is provided with a detailed, written incident report within seven days,” the letter states.

Techniques of physical restraint or seclusion are used only as a last resort, but are sometimes necessary to protect students and staff, said Lucy.

“For reasons of student confidentiality, we were not able to discuss the circumstances of any particular incident,” he said, “but I want to assure you that the district adheres to its policies and state law regarding these techniques, that our facilities comply with all laws and regulations in this area, and that our staff are trained in safety techniques through a state-approved training program. In every instance, the safety of students is our top priority.”

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