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Indiana schools are drafting plans on how to restrain students

There are right and wrong ways to restrain kids or place them in isolation at school. A new law forces Indiana schools to adopt a plan on how they’ll handle these situations.


Posted on June 4, 2014 at 12:58 p.m.

A new Indiana law says what school employees can and can’t do when physically restraining students.

The guidelines were motivated in part by stories like that of 8-year-old Shaylyn Searcy, who kept taking her shoes off at school. 

Searcy, who lives in Indianapolis and has Down syndrome, came home from school one day with her shoes duct-taped to her feet, according to a report from USA Today.

That example is one State Sen. Randy Head cited when he explained why he drafted a bill requiring schools to have a plan about the appropriate ways to restrain students or put them in isolation for disciplinary reasons.

“Hopefully, any teacher who is involved in restraining a child will be properly trained so they do that without putting the child in danger,” Head said. “We hope ... this will put everyone in a safer environment.”

And though restraint or seclusion of students may happen more often with special-needs students, the new law applies to all students.

It says schools have to document cases when a student is restrained or secluded, and parents have to be notified.

The law also says school employees should minimize the use of restraint or seclusion as a form of discipline, but if it is used, students should only be restrained or secluded for a short period of time.

All schools in Indiana must adopt a plan that fits minimum state guidelines by July 1. The state department of education’s Commission on Restraint and Seclusion in Schools has also drafted a “model plan” that schools can use if they wish.

Local schools

Local schools say they already have guidelines for how employees can restrain or seclude students, but most of them exist in special-needs departments or manuals.

Doug Thorne, director of personnel and legal services for Elkhart schools, said the district’s special education department put restraint and seclusion guidelines in place nearly a decade ago.

“For general education students, seclusion and restraint as they are defined (in the state guidelines) ... probably don’t actually take place,” Thorne said. 

He said that procedures Elkhart schools already have in place are pretty similar to what the state is requiring — so similar that the school board might not even have to adopt a whole new plan.

Concord Superintendent Wayne Stubbs said the new law pushed the district to develop a plan where there wasn't one before.

“This is really the first plan (for Concord schools) because it’s not been required by the state,” he said. “There had been board policies ... but they were not very specific.”

He added that three Concord students were restrained or placed in seclusion this past school year.

Fairfield schools has even fewer of these type of incidents, according to Superintendent Steve Thalheimer. 

The most recent numbers he could find about whether students were restrained or secluded come from the 2011-12 school year, when it happened twice.

“It’s a fairly rare occurrence,” he said. 

Even so, Fairfield is coming up with guidelines as required by the new law with assistance from the Elkhart County Special Education Cooperative.

Why special needs?

The law was pushed by special needs advocates around the state, including the Autism Society of Indiana

Dana Renay is an executive ally at the Autism Society of Indiana and she is also a member of the state committee that drafted the model seclusion and restraint plan for Indiana schools.

Renay said the law is needed because kids were being put into seclusion or restrained at school in ways that were harmful to them.

She’d heard stories, Renay said, from parents who felt their children had been improperly restrained or secluded, and the concern for special needs advocates was that parents have no legal recourse to take if this happened to their child because Indiana did not have a law about it.

“Really, this benefits the kids obviously, but it also protects the teachers,” Renay said. “They don’t have to question, in the heat of the moment, what should I do? It will be very clearly outlined.”

She pointed out that parents should ask their child’s school for the district’s restraint and seclusion plan, and familiarize themselves with the school’s guidelines.

“We don’t want people to get worried that it’s going to happen, but we want them to know, and to be educated so if God forbid something happens — they know what to do,” Renay said.

Other members of Indiana’s Commission on Seclusion and Restraint in Schools include two parents, a school superintendent, a representative of the state education department and others who work with special-needs children around the state.

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks.

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