Saturday, March 31, 2012

Survivor of school restraint and seclusion provides recommendations to the Ohio State Board of Education

March 15, 2012

A young adult with disabilities who survived restraint and seclusion in an Ohio public school described her experiences to the Ohio State Board of Education, and asked that immediate action be taken to protect children. Representatives of the Ohio Legal Rights Service (LRS) supported her as she spoke to the board at the March 2012 meeting.

The young woman described how she had loved school, was an excellent student and a star athlete and had many friends until her family moved one school district away. Then everything changed.

At her new school she was belittled, intimidated and abused by teachers and administrators. She told of being locked in a windowless concrete basement closet. She was denied access to school work, and allowed out of the room only three times a day for bathroom breaks. She spent many consecutive days in this room. She told of being pulled into an administrator's office during lunch period and denied anything to eat or drink. She gave many examples of abuse and neglect at the hands of school personnel.

This young woman described how school administrators tried to paint her as a bad kid so no one would believe her. She noted her belief that the school retaliated against her because her parent worked hard to advocate for her, and made complaints to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

She reported that the ODE representative told school administrators that they must stop putting her in the locked seclusion room. The next week, an administrator again ordered her to the locked room. She reminded him that the ODE representative said this should stop, and she tried to return to class. She was physically abused and emotionally traumatized over several hours. That was her last day of school.
The young woman told members of the Board of Education that she had been 15 years old, in the 10th grade, afraid she was going to die and told by school administrators that she had no future.

She now lives with post traumatic stress disorder and social phobias. Despite how hard it is to be in the public eye, and knowing the reality of retaliation, this young woman provided testimony because she does not want more children to be hurt and their dreams for bright futures crushed. She asked members of the Board of Education how a child with disabilities can go to one school district and thrive and be happy and successful, then move to another and have exactly the opposite experience. She asked why the Board allows schools to restrain and seclude students. She asked, if she had died in school, would there be a law named for her, like New York's Jonathon's Law, after that thirteen-year-old child was killed by a direct caregiver. She asked if the death of a child in restraint or seclusion in school is what it will take for the Board to act.
This young woman reminded Board members that restraint and seclusion cause injuries or worse, and that children are scarred emotionally by their use. She reminded the Board that there is nothing educational or therapeutic about using restraint and seclusion on children in schools.

She also asked what is stopping the Board from requiring ODE to put an effective rule in place. She asked why would the Board or ODE object to clear definitions of restraint and seclusion and require that they be used only in an emergency when a student is an immediate danger to self or others. She asked why would the Board object to requiring that any school personnel who restrains or secludes a student have prior training in accepted techniques that are not likely to cause injury or trauma. And what objections could there be for schools to provide students with disabilities with positive behavior interventions, and require educators to be trained to use these interventions and engage students in individualized plans? She asked why would anybody not want all use of restraint or seclusion to be reported to parents and ODE, and for ODE to provide public reports.

She stated that regulations are needed, and that she and others with similar experiences know what good rules should include.

The young woman summed up her experience by saying that her future was stolen from her. Addressing the Board, she said, "You are responsible for the safety of children in Ohio schools. Please protect them now. You failed to protect me."
Her testimony resulted in praise for her courage in coming before the Board, and also some apologies from Board members for the cruel treatment she endured. The State Board assured her that they would take action to ensure that other children are protected from the kind of abuse she experienced.

The Board asked ODE for a response. ODE staff reported the Department is working internally on drafting policies for restraint and seclusion for Ohio public schools and suggested a three-year timeline. LRS responded that policies will not provide accountability and that rules must be put in place. LRS noted that students will continue to be abused in districts large and small across the state while waiting for ODE to act to keep students safe, and regulate the use of restraint and seclusion.