Teachers and staff working with the most volatile students in Richland schools soon will have a districtwide set of rules about the restraint or seclusion in special-education classrooms.
The Richland School District will be one of the first in the state to condense such rules into a district policy, its attorney told the school board Tuesday.
The Richland School Board heard a first reading of policy 2164 from attorney Galt Pettett. Once approved by the school board, the policy will define what tactics might be used in special education programs and how incidents must be reported.
The policy won't necessarily change how teachers work with behaviorally difficult children, as anyone working in special education in Richland already is trained according to the principles of the internationally recognized Crisis Prevention Institute, Pettett told the board.
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The new policy is based on CPI rules and state and federal laws.
But so far, interpretation of these laws was up to individual teachers, as was the reporting of incidents during which they had to restrain or seclude students.
And because different teachers have different levels of experience and skill, terms have been defined differently from one school to another, Carol Johnson, director of special education, told the Herald.
That became apparent during a random audit by the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights last fall, Pettett said.
The agency asked the district to report how many times students had been restrained or secluded in the previous school year.
That proved to be more difficult than expected. Administrators found that there was confusion among teachers about what constitutes restraint and seclusion.
One common mistake was to confuse time-out and seclusion. The difference is a matter of degree, Johnson said.
Time-out can be used when a child shows a low level of agitation, Johnson said. The child needs to be separated from the group to regain control, but he or she can leave the time-out area any time.
Seclusion means placing the child in an area he or she can't leave, Johnson said. The child has stopped acting rationally and poses a danger to himself or herself and others.
It's not that teachers didn't know what to do in which situations, but how and when they reported these incidents.
The new policy clearly defines all terms used in special education classrooms and sets new reporting rules.
Teachers kept logs of when they had to restrain or seclude a child, but weren't required to turn in those numbers to administrators. Upon passage of the policy, they will have to report to their principals and to Johnson no later than the school day after the incident.
Teachers also must notify the child's parents of any restraint or seclusion within no more than 24 hours. So far, most teachers did so anyway, but it wasn't required by any district policy, Johnson said.
"Now we can keep track of patterns we might need to address," she said.
As the district hadn't kept the rates of restraint and seclusion in a central place before, having to answer the federal agencies' request created the first districtwide statistics on such incidents.
Across Richland schools, there are about 50 students -- the kids who present the most potential challenges -- in five so-called "behavior programs," Johnson said. These are self-contained classes.
Johnson didn't have the report to the federal agency with her, but estimated that among those 50 kids, about 20 to 25 incidents of restraint or seclusion occurred in the entire previous school year.