Thursday, December 14, 2006

Parents Criticize Use of Restraints In CT Public Schools

Yesterday there was a huge public hearing at the CT State House in Hartford, sponsored by the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. It was packed with about 100 Special Ed parents who were demanding changes to the use of restraints and seclusion on their children who attend public school. They were seeking changes in State Law because apparently there are no state or federal mandates or statutes that cover that area (as opposed to those that cover psychiatric hospitals or youth institutions). Additionally, parental consent for the use of various methods of behavioral control in school is severly lacking.
The CT Department of Children and Families spoke to the fact that they have no real authority over the schools, (that's a relief, eh?) but that they felt they (DCF), were doing a fabulous job of reducing the use of restraints in their own facilities, although they still have a ways to go. (oh my, what an understatement). The entire hearing was taped by CTN. It is certain that CT will see legislation come out this year on this issue. (HT: Noelle T. who attended).

Here is an excerpt of the Courant article:
When Jill Ely's autistic son tried to hit a high school aide one day last year, the aide pinned him to the floor, leaving him bruised and shaken, Ely said. Wilton High School later developed a behavior plan that included a "safe place" where her son, who also is mentally retarded, could calm down when he became upset, she said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the safe place would be a room with a door that would be held shut until [he] was completely quiet."
Although state law imposes strict limits on the use of force or seclusion in programs operated by various state agencies, the law does not apply to public schools, said James D. McGaughey, executive director of the protection and advocacy office.
Children's advocates asked for a revision of the law and called for better training of educators and public school staff members who deal with students with behavioral problems.
In Connecticut, the settlement of a lawsuit five years ago required the state to monitor compliance with a federal law requiring schools to educate children with disabilities in regular classrooms whenever possible. But advocates say schools are unprepared to deal with the emotional and behavioral problems that some of those children bring with them.
"The result of the settlement ... is mixed," said Stacy Hultgren, co-director of the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Center. "The settlement did not enforce training and supports to help kids succeed. Not all children with autism should be included in typical settings - the sensory overload of noise, movement, bombardment of language, complex social demands ... can make the classroom a hell on earth for some kids with autism."
Maryann Lombardi, also from Wilton, said her autistic son was routinely sent to what she described as "a padded cell called the timeout room." She said such rooms "are creating a culture within the public school system where employees believe that if you have a disability label, locking you up is OK."
Can someone please explain to me why these kids are in public school to begin with; I mean other than nonsensical federal mandates? This is so not what public education was designed to be. Teachers are not equipped to deal with these severe handicaps. Children who are not special ed, should not have to be exposed to the outbursts and extreme behaviors of some autistic students. It is frightening and upsetting to them as well, and it interrupts their own instruction. Some autistic children clearly cannot handle the situation well either. It really isn't fair to everyone all around.
I really don't mean to be prejudicial, but I really believe that since the idea of "mainstreaming" has been incorporated, our school system has served the general mission of educating kids less and less, as instructor time and resources are gobbled up by "emotionally high maintenance" children.
Autism is tragic and we really need to give better support to children and families who deal with it. It seems to me that the kids would really be much better served in schools designed with their specific needs in mind, and with educators who are specifically equipped and trained to handle their needs. Then we certainly would not have a need for restraints, or padded rooms in schools, to hold any child.