Public Comment to the Maryland State Board of Education

Today I visited the Maryland State Board of Education in Baltimore, Maryland. My goal today was to follow up on an email I had previously sent to Superintendent Salmon and the Members of the State Board of Education. While MSDE did reply to my letter they did not answer any of my questions. Watch the video below to see my comments or read the text version below the video.

Public comment to the State Board of Education

On June 24th I sent an email to the State Board of Education to share my concern about the use of restraint and seclusion.  In my email, I asked what the State Board is doing to provide oversight to the Maryland State Department of Education and the local school systems to ensure restraint and seclusion are being used per state law.  I asked if you, as a member of the State Board, felt that seclusion is an appropriate intervention in a non-clinical school setting. I asked you why you think that five states have been able to successfully ban the use of seclusion and Maryland has not. 

I received a response from MSDE a month later.  However, the response did not address any of my questions.  The letter suggested that I was seeking information on the State Board’s position on restraint and seclusion, which I was not.  I was told that MSDE convened a Task Force as required by 2017 legislation and that the Task Force created a report that was shared with the Board of Education.  This, of course, does not even answer the question suggested by MSDE. However, the greater irony here is that the Superintendent and the Board of Education did not implement the most significant recommendation of the Task Force.

I assume that each of you has seen the 2018 Restraint and Seclusion report.  It is this report that made me aware that our county, had the highest rate of seclusion and the second-highest rate of restraint in the state.  The data combined with my son’s experience being inappropriately restrained and secluded led me to raise the issue with our local school system.  In response to community concerns, our county formed a Restraint and Seclusion Committee and recently passed a new policy to reduce and eliminate restraint and seclusion.  I applaud Superintendent Curry and the Calvert County Board of Education for taking appropriate action. While this is great progress what is MSDE doing to address high rates of restraint and seclusion in other counties including Frederick, Charles, Washington, and Baltimore?      

According to Maryland State law, restraint and seclusion should only be used in situations that involve the threat of imminent serious physical harm.  This means these crisis management approaches should only be used in life or death situations or those that could lead to serious bodily injury. The truth is these situations should be so rare that when a district reports hundreds of them in a school year MSDE should be investigating.  As I’m sure you are aware, these interventions disproportionately impact children with disabilities and minorities, which raises an important civil rights issue. This is a serious issue that demands your attention.    

There are far better ways to work with children and make our schools safer for the children, teachers, and staff such as Ukeru.  Ukeru is a trauma-informed crisis management alternative that values comfort over control. There are proven models like the Collaborative Proactive Solutions model that focuses on proactively solving problems and addressing challenging behaviors.  We can and must do better for our children across the state. I will be providing my contact information and would appreciate it greatly if each of you could touch base with me so that we can set up a meeting. 

Guy Stephens 

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