Restraint and seclusion of students in Kentucky schools is often unnecessary, and students with disabilities and students of color were the most likely to be restrained and secluded in 2014-15, a report released this week by the Children’s Law Center Inc. said .
Statewide, in 2014-15, students with disabilities accounted for 58 percent of those restrained in Kentucky schools and were involved in 89.3 percent of the incidents of seclusion during the 2014-15 school year, the report said. Students of color were significantly overrepresented for both restraint and seclusion incidents during the 2014-15 school year and involved in reported incidents of restraints at nearly five times the rate of their white peers.
The report from the center, which has offices in Lexington and Covington, cites Kentucky Department of Education numbers that show students were restrained 5,985 times during the 2014-15 school year, up from 4,885 restraints reported for the 2013-14 school year. For the 2015-16 school year, the number continued to rise to 6,489.
“We were particularly shocked to see that 60 percent of school restraints in Kentucky are students in the third grade and below,” said Amanda Mullins Bear, managing attorney of the Lexington office of the Children’s Law Center, who presented the findings to the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Oversight Council in Frankfort.
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Kentucky’s regulation regarding restraint and seclusion became effective on Feb. 1, 2013. It specifies how and when educators can restrain or isolate unruly students.
The regulation allows students to be physically restrained — preventing students from moving torso, arms, legs or head — or placed in a secluded area away from classmates to protect them from hurting themselves or others. It also bans the use of physical restraint or seclusion as student punishment.
But Bear said the regulations need to be enhanced to mandate better monitoring, oversight and an enforcement mechanism to ensure that restraint and seclusion are only being used in the most extreme circumstances. Use of the techniques should be limited, better documented and exercised with more accountability,
The report recommends that the Kentucky Department of Education provide oversight on restraint and seclusion and permit restraint and seclusion solely in instances where there is imminent danger of serious physical harm. Department officials should also define the word “serious,” the report said. Among the recommendations for school districts is to implement interventions that focus on positive behavior and requiring accountability from law enforcement officers who work at schools.
Fayette County requires that schools use positive behavior interventions and several staff members have received training on youth mental health.
But Bear told the Herald-Leader, “We have had multiple incidents reported to us in Fayette County involving young kids and kids with severe mental illness, or other disabilities, where restraints were used improperly or unnecessarily. Certainly, there are situations that have been escalated by staff ... One of our clients is a 9-year-old who has an IQ of less than 55, and was restrained 10 times during one semester. Now that he has been transferred to a different school, he is no longer being restrained at all, which calls into question the necessity of the restraints at the prior school.”
Bear said she could not identify the students because some of the cases involving restraints are ongoing and because of confidentiality concerns.
According to the Kentucky Department of Education website, Fayette County reported 351 incidents of restraints in 2014-15, up from 104 incidents of restraint in 2013-14. The number of reports of students being restrained fell in 2015-16 from the previous year to 291. Fayette County’s reports of seclusion rose from 8 in 2013-14 to 48 in 2015-16, according to the state website.
Fayette County Public Schools is taking a proactive approach to dealing with potentially volatile situations with students, including an approach called safe crisis management, Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk said in response to the report. “We are committed to ensuring that all schools create and maintain a positive and safe learning culture and environment for students and adults.”
“We recognize that this is a statewide issue and that is why (the district) has taken a proactive approach. In July, we developed a standard operating procedure for safe crisis management to include a clear process for a review of data that examine trends,” Caulk said. “This will allow our district to respond and make adjustments, if necessary, with additional training and support for school teams. Our intent is to conduct a comprehensive review of our data and review our training and reporting protocol to ensure that safe crisis management is utilized, as appropriate, and in accordance with regulations.”
Kentucky Department of Education staff is reviewing the findings and recommendations, said spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez. “The safety of all Kentucky’s students is paramount and the Kentucky Department of Education is committed to ensuring all students are safe in school,” said Rodriguez. She said Kentucky was one of the first states to pass regulations regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in its schools and that the department continues to support and advise schools on the use of positive behavior interventions.
One example of problems cited in the report is also the subject of a report issued this week by Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, a legal rights agency for persons with disabilities. Protection and Advocacy officials issued a report on a 2014 incident in Jefferson County schools in which a 16-year-old boy with autism suffered severe, near-death injuries, after a staff member at a special school physically restrained him. The Protection and Advocacy report said school staff used excessive force.