Here is a message to school personnel "take your hands off the students!" I was recently at a school for a meeting for one of my clients. The meeting had gone well and I was exiting the building ready to get back to the office, when I was stopped in my tracks. I saw a young and small elementary student, who appeared to be a student with special needs, being "lead" by staff with his arms held behind his back. I also heard the offending staff saying to him "come on it's time to use the bathroom."
Seeing this sight caused my blood to boil, this student was much smaller then the staff that was manhandling him, and he was obviously in distress. I immediately said something to the staff, asking why they had their hands on the student, she retorted "who are you?" and I answered "a lawyer." The mention of the "lawyer" word (which I invoke sparingly), at least in the immediate instant, got the staff to unhand the student. I quickly explained that I was trained in the techniques that I assumed she was attempting to use and that the hold she was using was not one of the approved holds, but before she could answer I saw another, even smaller student being pulled even harder by the arm to go to the bus. At this point I was feeling like if I didn't get out of this school someone was going to have to restrain me! I calmly walked over to the new offending staff member and had a similar exchange.
Before becoming an attorney I worked in both school and camp settings with individuals with disabilities and had to go through extensive training including becoming CPI (Crisis Prevention Institute) certified. The key word there is crisis. I was taught, as are all who are certified, that the only time to use CPI holds or techniques is when, in fact, there is a crisis and the student or others are in IMMEDIATE danger. Now, it has been awhile since I worked in the school setting, but I am fairly certain that going to use the restroom is not a crisis and it definitely did not appear that anyone was in danger.
The issues of restraint and seclusion are hot topics right now, with proponents on both sides arguing before our government. For an incredibly disturbing read take a look at testimony provided by the Government Accountability Office before a committee of the House of Representatives. The title of the GAO's report is "Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers." The GAO report shows that the care required in mental health settings has not been required in schools. No federal law covers this matter, state laws are either nonexistent or generally not enforced. The department of education created a table of these laws.
Restraint and seclusion are being used illegally everyday. This is an issue that we see far too often when clients are calling for guidance. While I am not an expert, I do know that in the 7 plus years that I worked with children and adults with disabilities, none of my co-workers or I ever had to restrain a child or isolate an adult because we used the preventative steps to de-escalate even the most tense situation. When it comes to restraint and seclusion I think prevention is the key word. School personnel with minimal or no training have a persistent belief that restraining and physically handling students is the first and primary means of intervening with students. Nothing could be more wrong and illegal.
You can find a series of articles on restraint and seclusion here.