Concerned parents and advocates gathered together in Biloxi last Wednesday night, March 30th, for a town hall meeting to learn and discuss how state policies can protect children at schools from traumatizing, dehumanizing, and dangerous procedures, known as restraint and seclusion. In partnership with Moore Community House, ACLU Advocacy Coordinator, Rene' Hardwick, facilitated a discussion about protections and safe alternatives to restraint and seclusion.
What is Restraint and Seclusion?
Restraint is using physical and mechanical force to immobolize or restrict free movement of a student's arms, legs, torso, or head. Restraint does not refer to physical escort that involves holding a student's hand or arm to guide to safety.
Seclusion procedures include using confining a student to a space that restricts free movement, often to dark spaces or isolated rooms without human contact or bathroom break. Seclusion procedures does not include in-school school suspension and time-out.
What is the problem?
Mississippi schools are employing harmful and destructive disciplinary practices as a form of punishment, intervention and discipline rather than in cases of emergencies where a students’ behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical and emotional harm to self or others. There were 323 reported cases in 2009-2010 school year. It is likely that many other incidents have gone unreported because schools are not required to report when restraint and seclusion procedures are used. These procedures are disproportionately used on students of color and students with disabilities. Students of color are two times more likely experience restraint, and students with disabilities are 6 times more likely to be physically restrained than other students. African American students make up 44% of students with disabilities that experience restraint.
Research shows that these disciplinary procedures are too often used for the most trivial behavior and harm a child's social, emotional, and cognitive development. These procedures also work in conjunction with other disciplinary procedures, such as suspension and expulsion, to further put students at risk of grade retention (process of repeating a grade or course), dropout, and involvement with the juvenile detention centers and criminal justice systems- process commonly known as the school to prison pipeline.
Check out Mississippi Center for Justice report, Overrepresented and Underserved: The Impact of School Discipline on African American Students in Mississippi and ACLU fact sheet: What is the School to Prison Pipeline?
What is the solution?
Mississippi Statewide Policy
Mississippi remains one of five states that DOES NOT have a statewide policy that restricts restraint and seclusion procedures. Currently there is a proposed policy rule now open for public comment until April 15th.
To submit a public comment, written comments must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Tollie Thigpen, Office of Safe and Orderly Schools, Mississippi Department of Education, P.O. Box 771, Suite 210, Jackson, MS 39205-0771.
You can find the MDE proposed policy 4013 – Restraint and Seclusion (Proposed for State Board Policy 3, Chapter 38, Rule 38.13 – Restraint and Seclusion) below.
You can also sign ACLU petition in support of a statewide restraint and seclusion policy at the link below:
Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS)
PBIS is a school-wide system of support that includes proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments. PBIS provides a structured environment to greatly reduce, and in most cases eliminate, the need to use restraint or seclusion. Mississippi schools access to support the implementation of PBIS through REACH MS (Realizing Excellence for ALL Children in Mississippi). Click here to learn more about the program and find out how your school can get involved.
Know your rights
Right to a FREE and APPROPRIATE public education
Right to NOT be discriminated against on the basis of race or disability status
Right to Due Process (the right to be notified of decisions that impact your child and the opportunity to be heard)
Report cases of restraint and seclusion
Steps a parent can take should his/her child experience restraint or seclusion:
Your child comes first—physical and emotional well-being are paramount
Seek immediate medical attention if your child has any visible signs of abuse
Take pictures of your child’s condition as soon as possible after the event (label time and date)
Contact psychologist/psychiatrist/counseling professional at once
Remain calm for the sake of your child—to establish safety and security
Contact the school the same day ask to speak to child’s teacher/administrator
Request a meeting and attend within the next day or two and take someone who is knowledgeable and whom you trust
Keeping your child home from school: This is an individual choice
Strongly consider reporting the incident to your local police, Department of Human Services and Child Protective Services
Talk to administrator at your child's school
Often school administrators and superintendents have the ability to resolve the issues that arise at school. Talk to your administrator about restraint and seclusion policies and intervention strategies at your school. Follow the chain of command:
First Step: School Administrator
Second Step: Superintendent for District
Third Step: School Board
Final Step: Mississippi Department of Education
Please visit the ACLU of MS restraint and seclusion website. Click on the link www.keepstudentssafems.org to learn more about restraint and seclusion and how you can share your story surrounding an incident(s) involving the safety of our most vulnerable.
Special thanks to Rene' Hardwick for ACLU power point presentation, Keeping Students Safe, as source for content of this blog.