DOE Report On Physical Restraint Of Students Is Very Disturbing

I read a lot of reports the Delaware Department of Education puts out.  Probably more than is healthy for a normal human being.  This one though…it got to me.  The last two times I felt like this was when I read the reports from the last couple of years on the Inter-agency Collaborative Team.  That group decides which students go to treatment centers, either in Delaware or out-of-state.  This report on Physical Restraint of Students has been out since October 6th, and it represents the total number of physical restraints in Delaware schools for the 2014-2015 school year.  The timing on this article could not be better given recent events that have occurred in Delaware and other states with adults acting very inappropriate to students.

In my eyes, physical restraint should be an absolute last resort with any student.  Other categories, which by regulation are not allowed, can be used through a “waiver request” with the Delaware DOE.

While the regulations prohibit the use of chemical restraint, mechanical restraint, and seclusion, the latter two are subject to use if authorized through the Delaware Department of Education’s (DDOE) waiver granting process. In addition to permitting and prohibiting uses of restraint and seclusion, these regulations require training for public school, private program or alternative program personnel, documentation and reporting of incidents of restraint and seclusion, requirements of notification to parents, and waiver procedures for the use of mechanical restraint or seclusion. These regulations provide for the safety of all students in our public school system.

I would love to know who approves these at the DOE.  Is it the head of their climate and discipline area?  The head of the Exceptional Children Resources Group?  The Secretary of Education?

The report goes on to talk about how no mechanical or seclusion waivers were accepted by the DOE.

Please note, no seclusion or mechanical restraint waivers were approved during the 2014-2015 school year. Although there were no approved waivers for mechanical restraint or seclusion, one LEA reported the use of mechanical restraint. The DDOE addressed the unauthorized use of the mechanical restraint with the LEA.

And why was this not made public?  A school violates the law in a severe way, and we have no mention of how the DOE addressed the issue?  Really?

And what does the DOE and Delaware law describe as chemical, mechanical, and physical restraints?  And seclusion?

“Chemical restraint” means a drug or medication used on a student to control behavior or restrict freedom of movement that is either not medically prescribed for the standard treatment of a student’s medical or psychiatric condition or not administered as prescribed. (Authority: 14 Del.C. §4112F(a)(1)).

“Mechanical restraint” means the application of any device or object that restricts a student’s freedom of movement or normal access to a portion of the body that the student cannot easily remove.

“Physical restraint” means a restriction imposed by a person that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to freely move arms, legs, body, or head.

“Seclusion” means the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room, enclosure, or space that is either locked or, while unlocked, physically disallows egress.

So how many times were students in Delaware physically restrained?

In total, 2,307 incidents of physical restraints were reported during the 2014-2015 school year to the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE).

And how many of these were students with disabilities?

For the 2014-2015 school year, districts and charter schools in Delaware restrained a disproportionate number of students with disabilities (77%) who qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

And how many were African-American?

The number of Black or African-American students restrained was also disproportionately high at 54%.

As I surmised, the amount of physical restraints was much higher for male students than female students.

More males than females – 77% vs. 23%, respectively – were restrained.

Out of these 2,307 incidents, we learn later on in the report that it was actually only 507 students who were physically restrained.  Which means it happened multiple times to some students.

What kills me is the next part.  The age group with the most amount of physical restraints was students aged 6-8 with 153 students.  Then 9-11 with 128 students, and 12-14 with 121 students.  15 students aged 3-5 were physically restrained.  Out of the 392 students with disabilities, 135 were students with Autism.  101 had an Emotional Disturbance classification, and 57 were considered “other-health impaired”.  115 regular students without special education status were physically restrained.

In Table 6 of the below document, the DOE makes a MAJOR error in their synopsis of their data.  They indicate 1,022 students were physically restrained at five minutes or less for a total of 44%.  877 students at 6-9 minutes for 38%, and 408 students at 10 minutes or more for 18%.  The DOE’s major blunder occurs in the part they write after this:

Table 6 displays the duration of all physical restraints. The majority of physical restraints were less than or equal to 5 minutes.

No they weren’t DOE.  If you add 877 and 408, you get 1,285.  Last time I checked, Common Core or not, 1,285 is more than 1,022.  Therefore, the majority of students were physically restrained for more than five minutes.  Imagine, if you will, you are wrestling with someone.  They pin you down.  To win the round, they have to hold you down for ten seconds.  Imagine that for a minute.  Then imagine five minutes.  And if that is too much for you to stomach, imagine that happening for ten minutes.  Or imagine you are really mad.  Someone tells you to calm down.  Someone bigger and stronger than you.  How much time is excessive?  How hard are they holding the student down?  At what point does your body give up as well as your mind?  If you have reached that point but they are still holding you down, what does that do to a person?  To a child?

For the 2014-2015 school year, the month with the most physical restraints was October with 345.  I found this to be particularly telling.  Many students with IEPs have issues in a new school year.  At what point does it get to be too much for some students?  Looks like October.  Things seem to calm down in November and the number decreased to 189.  In December, there were 250.  Keep in mind, schools are off for about 1/4 of the month, so on average, December isn’t much better than October.

The next part I want to talk about shows the special education limits on charter schools.  Many charters won’t take Autism kids.  With few exceptions, it is very hard to find ones that do aside from Gateway Lab School.  Out of the 2,307 incidents, only 9 happened in Delaware charter schools.  Some would take this is “Oh, charters in Delaware seem to handle things better, I should send my disabled child there.”  No, you shouldn’t.  Like I said, they don’t take many kids with severe disabilities.

The report next goes through each school district and the charters to show how many happened at each school.  But this is one of the most insulting parts of the whole report, because the almighty “n” # of 15 rears its ugly head, and most schools don’t show the actual number because it is 15 or less.  None of the school reports show the time the child was physically restrained either.  Are there any particular schools or districts that are doing this for longer periods of time?  That is something that should be reported and investigated to find out why.  But we don’t know that because the DOE didn’t bother to put it in the report.  What we do know is out of the 2,307 students, 1,589 were in New Castle County, 334 in Kent County, 392 in Sussex County, and 9 in charter schools.

When I first read this report, I assumed a lot of these incidents could occur at the residential treatment centers.  Nope.  Only 29 students who attended these facilities in Delaware or out-of-state were physically restrained a total of 187 times.  Which means the other 2,120 happened in public schools.

The DOE states these situations happen when a student is a danger to themselves or others.  But I also have to wonder how many times situations escalated because adults involved either were not properly trained or were just having a bad day and made a situation worse.  To me, the most disturbing aspect of this whole report is the appendix B at the end which shows what kind of data the DOE collects for a mechanical restraint waiver.  I’m glad they didn’t grant any of these, but it doesn’t show how many applications they received with a lot of personal data about a student.  All of the data for this is stored on E-School Plus, which is run by a company called Sungard.  They also run IEP Plus, with all of the special education data for every single student that has an IEP in the state.  But the training for this is administered by another company called Schoology.  Sorry, I just don’t trust the DOE and all this data running through their hands.  I know, there are laws meant to protect this information but there are many loopholes in those very laws which can allow for other companies or vendors to obtain data for “educational instruction” and whatnot.

In terms of physical restraint, I had a long sidebar conversation with Kilroy tonight over these kinds of issues.  We talked at length about the SRO in another state who threw a female student across the room.  The girl wouldn’t leave the room, and apparently it was over a cell-phone.  We can all argue about what happened with the desk, but the way he threw her after, that was abusive in my opinion.  And I’m not sure how many of you have sat in those kinds of desks.  It is very easy, if someone pushes you, to go down with the whole desk because your legs are somewhat pinned in them unless you go to get up.  Kilroy posted a great article yesterday about the role of State Resource Officers in Delaware schools and a News Journal article on it.  This needs to be part of the conversation as well.  The physical restraint laws do not apply to police.  If they see someone in danger to their self or others, they are obligated to act.  Should schools have more SROs in them?  Probably.  The last thing we need is rent-a-cops.  But what happens if an SRO goes over the line?  What are parent’s choices then?

All I can say is this: if a school employee is laying their hand on a student, I would expect them to have done everything possible with the student’s IEP and behavior intervention plan and accommodated that student 100%.  If they haven’t, that is a huge part of the problem.  I do not have a child with Autism, and I understand there are instances where this could be needed with these students.  But once again, if an educator or school staff is part of the problem, and not the solution, this could play a huge part in a student’s behavior.

Everyone wants to always blame a school or district for discipline issues.  While it is certainly true they share some of the blame, there are outside factors that play huge parts in many districts.  The Wilmington schools show this the most in Delaware.  But we can also blame the DOE for many of their crippling policies and unreasonable mandates that do not allow for proper funding, their just-about crippling of teacher’s ability to provide a proper education to students (many do, but I think we can all agree many of them would like to do it different than what we currently have), and the DOE’s inability to understand special education.

My biggest concern out of all of this: are parents always notified when this happens?

You can read the full report below.