Fifty to 60 years ago it wasn’t unusual for a teacher to use force to deal with an unruly student. Times have changed, we now know there are reasons for students to misbehave. They can have an anxiety disorder, depression or a number of other problems. They could have a poor home situation and lack sleep and a good diet.
Teachers are no longer expected to react in a physical manner except in extreme situations. How do schools handle students causing a disturbance? In North Dakota they are doing it in a variety of ways, some school districts are operating without a policy or guidelines.
Tribune reporter Blair Emerson looked at how North Dakota schools use restraint and seclusion to cope with students out of control in a story on April 27. She cited a recent survey, administered by the North Dakota School Boards Association, that found 58 percent of districts have a policy, 26 percent don't, and 17 schools are in the process of adopting one.
The Tribune Editorial Board believes it’s time for statewide guidelines on when and how to use restraint and seclusion.
North Dakota is working on the issue on at least two fronts. The North Dakota Protection and Advocacy Project recently formed a task force to examine restraint and seclusion. An interim education committee has started gathering information on whether a state policy should be adopted. At the moment North Dakota, along with New Jersey, Mississippi, Idaho and South Dakota, are the only states with no law protecting students against the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.
The restraint can involve, among other things, a child being tied to a chair and there was a report of someone sitting on a child. In Bismarck, a parent recounted how her child, 9 at the time, was placed in a "quiet room." The parent said the room was the size of a closet and had a small window on the door so a staffer could peer inside. Someone held the door shut and monitored the child. The child didn’t react well and was distraught when the parent arrived.
Bismarck and Mandan public schools do have policies on restraint and seclusion.
Bismarck adopted its policy last July and staff underwent training in the fall. The policy says restraint and seclusion may be used to "control violent, disturbed, or depressed behavior" that has or may immediately result in harm to a student or others, or in "extreme or extensive damage to property." In addition, staff are trained to recognize violent, disturbed or depressed behavior, Superintendent Tamara Uselman told Emerson. They also are trained in techniques to avoid using restraint and seclusion.
Mandan has been using federal guidelines for the last 10 to 15 years, according to Tracy Klein, director of special education. Mandan doesn't have seclusion rooms, but it does have "quiet areas" that are used for education and small group instruction.
Klein likes Mandan’s guidelines and is skeptical about a state guidelines. "As far as a state policy, my reluctance is there would be the one-size-fits-all model," he told Emerson.
State guidelines don’t have to be overly restrictive on schools, but they can help schools develop policies to deal with situations they may never anticipate. If 26 percent of the schools don’t have a policy, that’s too many. Policies provide protection for everyone involved. They tell staff how to deal with situations and give parents an idea of how their child will be treated.
The guidelines don’t have to handcuff local schools. They can offer options and guidance in very difficult situations. Teachers and staff are caring, otherwise they wouldn’t be in education. However, they aren’t always prepared for some situations that can occur.
It’s time for statewide guidelines, they’ll help everyone.