Ever lose someone overnight? My family did, and it was after one incident of restraint in the schoolhouse.
Many folks don’t know that seclusion and restraint techniques are used as interventions when students aren’t able to comply with the task at hand during the school day. Unfortunately, these methods cause trauma and sometimes irreparable damage, developmental regression, injury, and even death.
In our case, my then sixth-grader Sam — who has given me permission to tell his story along with the video interview in which he participated — lost 4 years of academic progress and equally severe regression in personal care. He no longer fed or bathed himself, his communication seemed to be pre-kindergarten level when his verbal skills had been the strongest, before that day. This all happened in a 24-hour period of time.
Sam wasn’t being aggressive when it happened, he was having anxiety about math class and didn’t want to go in. As he was being escorted to the “resource room” (seclusion room) by two adults, he broke free and jogged through the hallways as a counselor who worked there did with him on a prior session teaching coping strategies. She told him she jogged when she had anxiety. And on that day, so did he. That is, until the school resource officer, a behavior specialist, and other staff subdued him in a restraint hold that went to the ground.
Before this date, my child could read and write on a 4th-grade level, was very independent in self-care, and entertained himself happily with music, sports, taking photos, superhero figures, and calling friends and family members to chat, and was loving and gentle typically.
After this date, my child began to self-harm, became aggressive to others, could not read or write, and used very limited expressive language. I no longer recognized him. What happened next was a litany of psychiatric interventions, including medications with scary side effects, and episodes of severe behaviors, hospital visits, and ultimately five years to regain those skills and development so quickly taken away.
Sam attends school utilizing an IEP specific to his autism diagnosis in order to modify curricula and grade-level goals to accommodate his unique and individual learning needs. An IEP is federally protected by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and provides students with a disability Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is supposed to be tailored to their individual needs.
Problem was, by November of that school year, the staff at the school hadn’t read his IEP as evidenced by the lack of familiarity with his accommodations for high-level generalized anxiety and the case manager’s inability to address it. It became clear that the school was not following the incremental interventions outlined for social-emotional learning support and staff were otherwise untrained to de-escalate or manage this situation without harm to my child.
How can this be changed, so other children don’t have to experience what happened to Sam? Recently the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA) was re-introduced by Congressman Don Beyer (VA-08), Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and Congressman Donald McEachin (VA-04).
“The Keeping All Students Safe Act would make it illegal for any school receiving federal taxpayer money to seclude children and would ban dangerous restraint practices that restrict children’s breathing, such as prone or supine restraint. The bill would also prohibit schools from physically restraining children, except when necessary to protect students and staff. The bill would better equip school personnel with the training they need to address school-expected behavior with evidence-based proactive strategies, require states to monitor the law’s implementation, and increase transparency and oversight to prevent future abuse of students.”11/19/2020 Press Release from Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
If KASSA was in place, over 900 students in my school district would not have had instances of restraint and over 600 students secluded last year. Potentially, 1500 students could have been helped with safer strategies and less harmed.
In 2013, KASSA would have meant protection from the trauma to my child that would lead to the nightmare of having to relearn living and school again. Our whole family had to relearn living again.
I had to stop working to step-up therapies and hired a lawyer to find the most appropriate placement for him because it was obvious public school was not. Even though the system moved us to a school that included more resources and flexibility for autistic learners, test scores from 6th grade to 8th grade plateaued and dropped progress still. He was STILL not reading and writing again.
This much-needed legislation could have protected my family from pain and suffering, on the heels of the humbling, rewarding, yet challenging endeavor of raising an autistic child.
The Keeping All Student Safe Act also means more safety for teachers, as they are more likely to be injured during restraint events. With better training such as a greater emphasis on alternative responses, de-escalation, social-emotional learning, and neurodiversity teachers will be better equipped to manage the diverse learning needs they’re faced with every day in this new world of inclusion.
Today, Sam is 17 and attends a nonpublic school for students with IEPs. In the first year he attended this specialized school, he regained 3 years of reading progress. And with most of his self-care ability recovered, he’s thriving more and flexing his verbal skills more than ever.
Given the huge disparity and disproportionate data showing black and brown children, and those with disabilities are 80% and 77% respectively of the kids being restrained and secluded, I’d also say that this bill means more equity and inclusion in public education. Better late than never!
Students do well when they can. KASSA makes the schoolhouse safer, families safer, and teachers safer. It’s a win-win all around. Let’s make this happen!
Please watch this video of Sam last month as he practices self-advocacy in telling his story and asking to pass KASSA in 2021. He hopes to help keep all students safe in school because bodily safety should be a well-practiced right for all students.