Hello! My name is Guy Stephens. I started The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR) to raise awareness about the use of aversive practices including restraint and seclusion in classrooms across our nation. The mission of the AASR is to raise awareness about the issue of seclusion and restraint. These practices, as I’m sure you are aware, disproportionately impact children with disabilities, minorities, and boys. Not only are the practices ineffective, but they can also lead to significant trauma, injury and even death in students, teachers, and staff. There are better ways to work with all children and educate them in our schools. This is a serious issue, a civil rights issue, a constitutional rights issue and human rights issues.
I live in Southern Maryland with my wonderful wife and two amazing children. My son Cooper is on the autism spectrum and has been diagnosed with ADHD and social anxiety. I started on my unexpected journey advocating against the use of restraint and seclusion when Cooper was repeatedly and inappropriately restrained and secluded in the Maryland public school system. The first time it happened he was in the 5th grade, and it was so traumatic that he did not want to return to school. At the time I had never heard of restraint and seclusion as they related school crisis management practices and the events were never recorded as such. We ended up homeschooling Cooper for the next two years, as he did not want to return to school. Before the beginning of the eighth grade school year, Cooper decided he wanted to return to public school. We worked very hard to develop an IEP that would meet his needs. We talked to the school staff about the best ways of working with my son, and the need to avoid physical restraint. Despite our best effort my son was restrained and secluded on at least four occasions in his first 15 days at the new school. After a particularly traumatic event he was not willing to return, nor were we ready to send him back. He received home and hospital teaching for the remainder of the 8th grade school year.
We knew what happened to our son should have never happened to him and I promised him that I would do all within my power to make sure it didn’t happen again. I began to learn all that I could and conducted exhaustive research on the topic. As I began to review data I realized that there was a significant issue in our county. Our county, while 16th in the size of its enrollment in the state, had the highest rates of seclusion and the second-highest rate of restraint in Maryland. I began working with other parents and the local Board of Education to effect change. After months of work, the Board of Education passed an updated policy that will eliminate the use of seclusion and reduce restraint within the next two years. The school system is also beginning a pilot program for Ukeru Systems, which is a crisis management program that does not use seclusion and restraint. I’ve also been advocating for proactive solutions including the Collaborative Proactive Solutions model developed by Dr. Ross Greene and Lives in the Balance. I have been meeting with local, state and federal lawmakers to support legislation to ban seclusion in schools across the nation. That work is underway with the community we are building here at the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR). Today we have a small but dedicated (and fierce) group of parents, advocates and others working to effect change, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. A huge thanks to all of you that are speaking up for our children and trying to impact change.