Today’s guest author is Brian Dalla Mura.
Brian is a special education teacher in Vermont. He holds a master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University. He has experience teaching students with emotional disabilities in kindergarten through high school. Brian began advocating for stronger and safer restraint and seclusion policies after witnessing prone restraints in his local school district where he worked and his child attended.
In sharing my essay, I aim to inspire others to find their voice and speak up against injustices they encounter. Throughout my advocacy journey in the Harwood Unified Union School District, I experienced the power of persistence in challenging a culture of silence. I firmly believe that every individual can effect change, no matter how daunting the circumstances may seem. By standing up for what we believe in, we can create a ripple effect that brings positive transformation to our communities. Let this essay be a testament to the importance of never remaining silent in the face of injustice and the profound impact that our voices can have when we choose to speak up.
From the moment I joined Brookside Primary School in the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD), I was deeply troubled by the distressing daily ritual of restraining and forcibly dragging students to the seclusion room. As an educator, I found the courage to express my concerns to the administrators, hoping for a resolution. Regrettably, those concerns were met with dismissal, and the restraints continued month after month.
Faced with an entrenched culture of silence, I initially felt disheartened and nearly abandoned my advocacy efforts.
However, an incident occurred that reignited my determination. Witnessing elementary students being held in the prone position was a turning point that propelled me back into action. I once again confronted the administration, only to be met with their claims that prone restraints were necessary and therapeutic. At that moment, I realized I had to move beyond the administration and rally support from the school board to challenge the policy itself. My ultimate goal became clear: to eliminate prone restraints as an acceptable practice.
I took the opportunity to address the school board during a public meeting, passionately urging them to review and revise the district’s policy thoroughly. Yet, I understood that a single public comment would not be enough to dismantle the culture of silence within the district. To shatter that silence, I reached out individually to board members whom I believed would share my concerns. Additionally, I engaged with local newspapers, crafting powerful opinion pieces to shed light on the issue. Recognizing the strength of collective advocacy, I connected with the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, a national organization devoted to ending such practices. With their support, they wrote an email to the local paper and school board, effectively moving the issue further into the spotlight.
Expanding my network further, I sought the support of the local anti-racism organization, a crucial ally in my advocacy journey. Their endorsement materialized as an invitation to speak at their monthly meeting, where I underscored the urgency for change. This resulted in the organization composing a letter to the school board, articulating a series of demands regarding restraint and seclusion in the district.
Aware that the district might attempt to perpetuate the culture of silence, I persisted in writing emails, making public comments, and contributing opinion pieces to local newspapers — relentlessly.
Gradually, the school board responded by establishing a sub-committee tasked with reviewing the restraint and seclusion policy. This sub-committee would then present recommendations for a new policy to the entire board. Throughout this process, the board frequently retreated into closed-door executive sessions, citing discussions of “privileged attorney-client information.” Upon emerging, they would draft policies that often masked the status quo as genuine change. Undeterred, I remained vigilant, tirelessly correcting misinformation through local papers and community forums, ensuring that the community remained informed about this little-known yet critical issue.
In the end, the district passed a policy explicitly banning prone restraint, supine restraint, and seclusion. Even more significant was the considerable progress made in reducing the overall use of physical restraints. Previously averaging more than one physical restraint per day over several years, the district recorded only one physical restraint in the past month, with zero instances of seclusion.
Simultaneously throughout my advocacy, I reached out to Vermont state legislators to address the pervasive issue of restraint and seclusion in schools. My efforts captured the attention of Representative Theresa Wood of Waterbury, VT, who took the initiative to introduce legislation, h.409, that would outlaw prone restraints, supine restraint, and seclusion statewide. The House Committee on Education began taking testimony on the matter, providing an opportunity for further discussion and potential progress.
While the legislation has yet to move forward, the ongoing dialogue ensures that the issue remains in focus.
Thank you for reading my story. Please stay tuned for future legislative progress in Vermont as we continue to address the issue of restraint and seclusion in schools. I hope that my story of persistence and advocacy inspires others to find their voice and speak up against injustices against students.