Kentucky's public school districts are gearing up for a new state regulation that specifies how and when educators can restrain or isolate students who are unruly.
The regulation, which went into effect Feb. 1, allows students to be physically restrained — preventing students from moving torso, arms, legs or head — or placed in a secluded area away from classmates only to protect them from hurting themselves or others. It also bans the use of physical restraint or seclusion as student punishment. Students can be restrained for intentionally destroying property.
Advocates have been calling for such rules for years, arguing that schools were physically restraining or secluding students too often and were sometimes causing injuries. Special education students — especially those with mental disabilities whose classroom behavior was viewed as disruptive — were often the ones most affected, according to advocates.
Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, an agency that advocates for individuals with disabilities, says it received 100 complaints about students being restrained or secluded between 2006 and November 2012, as well as 80 reports of students sustaining bruises, scrapes and sometimes more serious injuries.
Although the regulation went into effect last month, the Kentucky Department of Education will not implement it until classes begin for the 2013-2014 school year, said Gretta Hylton, an exceptional children consultant with the department.
That will give schools time to prepare, Hylton said. She said schools will continue to operate under existing policies and provisions until the new regulation kicks in this fall.
Among other things, schools across Kentucky must adopt new policies and procedures and train all school personnel.
Education officials say all school employees — from a teacher or administrator to a bus driver or janitor — will undergo training because any of them could have to restrain a student who is unruly.
Kentucky Educational Television and the state Department of Education are jointly developing an online training program that school employees could use. Officials say some districts could develop their own training programs.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky School Boards Association is adopting a set of model policies and procedures that school districts could use, according to spokesman Brad Hughes. The goal is for schools to have everything in place by July 1.
Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, says his organization is answering school districts' questions and sending out guidance documents to help with the transition.
"It was always painted ... as an issue of students with disabilities, but ... it applies to all students," Young said.
Fayette Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said he thinks most Kentucky school districts will be able to conform with the new regulation simply by enhancing current procedures.
"In Fayette County, our policies already minimize any type of physical contact with students," he said. "The main thing is for us to make sure everyone receives training about the new law, and that we know how to manage the paperwork and reporting. It's really enhancing what we've already got in place."
Meanwhile, school superintendents who once were leery of the new regulation are now on board, said Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. Sears said many superintendents feared that the original draft of the rule would leave no means of controlling extremely abusive or destructive children. Negotiations led to a wording change they could work with.
"We favored training; we were not in favor of seclusion without observation; we were in favor of de-escalation training, restraint training and anticipation training," Sears said. "I think we have all that in place now."
The General Assembly's Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee approved the regulation in December, after three years of work by Protection and Advocacy, the education department and other groups.
Kentucky Protection and Advocacy Director Marsha Hockensmith says it was badly needed because Kentucky previously had no rules or regulations, and that opened the door to possible abuse or misuse. It also limited parents' recourse when students were injured, she said.
"And, because there was nothing that required schools to even tell parents when restraint or seclusion was used on their child, many injuries went unexplained," Hockensmith said. "Parents continued, sometimes for years, to be unaware of what was happening to their children in school."
The new regulation provides some additional protection for students.
Lucy Heskins, a Protection and Advocacy attorney, says it specifically prohibits the practice of restraining a student in a face up or face down position on the floor or other surface, with physical pressure applied to the student's body.
It requires parents to be notified whenever restraint and seclusion are used on their children and allows them to request a debriefing session with school officials. And it requires school districts to give the state Department of Education annual reports on their use of restraint or seclusion. That's important because there's previously been no way to gather data on the use of high risk interventions, Heskins said.
In some cases, Kentucky schools have physically restrained and secluded children even when students were not being unruly, she said.
"There are times when kids are doing absolutely nothing to merit being restrained ... or secluded," Heskins said.
The Kentucky Department of Education has issued a guidance document that includes commonly asked questions about a new regulation regarding restraint and seclusion of students in Kentucky schools. See the full report at Education.ky.gov.
Here are some questions and answers from the site:
Q: I have heard that the regulation will not permit teachers to break up fights between students.
A: This is not true. Breaking up a fight does not necessarily require the physical restraint of a student. However, the regulation permits any school personnel to restrain (immobilize) a student to prevent physical injury to self or others, if there is no one close by who is formally trained in safely restraining or secluding the student.
Q: Must a student be visually monitored while in seclusion?
A: Yes. The regulation requires that the student be visually monitored for the duration of the seclusion.
Q: Does the regulation force teachers to stand by while students destroy property?
A: School personnel may use physical force when immediately necessary to prevent a crime involving property. When a student's destruction of property is criminal, or puts the student or others at risk of physical harm, school personnel may use physical restraint or seclusion. Physical restraint does not include temporary touching or holding of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, or back for the purpose of encouraging a student to move voluntarily to a safe location.
Q: What if a disruptive student refuses to leave the classroom?
A: Teachers will be provided with de-escalation strategies to keep students from becoming seriously disruptive. If preventive strategies do not work, a disruptive student may be escorted from the classroom to the office without the escort being a physical restraint.
Q: Will school personnel get in trouble if they use physical restraint or seclusion?
A: The regulation was designed to educate school personnel about the dangers of immobilizing a student through physical restraint or placing the student in a seclusion room. These actions should never be taken lightly and must be the last, rather than the first, steps taken. A teacher who uses physical restraint or seclusion will not be in trouble if the teacher follows the process set out in the regulation, and their district's policies and procedures.
SouRce: Kentucky Department of Education
Physical restraint: A personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move the student's torso, arms, legs, or head freely, but does not include: (a) Temporary touching or holding of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, or back for the purpose of encouraging a student to move voluntarily to a safe location;
Seclusion: The involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is prevented from leaving but does not mean classroom timeouts, supervised in-school detentions, or out-of-school suspensions.