The state of Ohio should not regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in schools, dozens of school superintendents told the Ohio Department of Education. They say the requirements of current draft regulations are too expensive and unnecessary.
In Ohio, no state law currently governs seclusion rooms, and the Ohio Department of Education has provided little guidance and virtually no oversight to schools. But Ohio, like many other states nationwide, is moving to regulate how seclusion and restraint may be used in schools.
The debate in Ohio echoes the national debate about restraint and seclusion in schools, pitting school administrators who resist additional regulation against parents and advocates who say more rules are needed to protect children.
Seclusion rooms are small rooms, some with doors and some without, used to isolate children. Many educators say they should only be used to contain children who are out of control and a danger to themselves or others. They’re often used for children with special needs.
But an investigation this year by StateImpact Ohio and The Columbus Dispatch found the rooms are often misused. Some teachers use them to punish children. Many times, placing children in the rooms is a convenience for frustrated employees.
The joint investigation also found many schools that used seclusion rooms had no formal policy about when or how the rooms should be used or about how parents should be notified. Many schools did not train staff in the proper use of seclusion rooms.
Reduce the Use
Ohio’s draft policy would require every school district to adopt its own policy on the use of seclusion and restraint. Schools would be required to “greatly reduce, and in most cases, eliminate” the use of restraint or seclusion by instead managing student behavior without force.
The draft policy would also require schools that use restraint and seclusion to have written plans on how they may be used and report data on their use. Schools would also need to evaluate the behavior of “students who display severe or a pattern of unhealthy or disruptive behaviors” to develop positive ways to manage them.
But in comments sent to the Ohio Department of Education, school leaders say they don’t think a new policy is necessary.
More Money, More People, More Lawsuits?
A group of 20 Stark County-area superintendents told the department existing state law on corporal punishment already provides enough guidance to keep students and staff safe.
“The proposed Policy and Rule deviate from that standard, and fail to consider the significant financial and human resource implications,” they wrote.
And setting a formal policy on the use of seclusion and restraint “sets the stage for parent/school conflict, law suits, and contentious relations,” another superintendent wrote.
Much of the school district opposition focused on the apparent requirement that schools evaluate the behavior of all disruptive students and provide training to staff on how to manage student behavior without the use of force. Echoing talking points from the Ohio School Boards Association, school district staff and leaders called the requirements an “unfunded mandate.”
A school psychologist from Tipp City told the department if the requirement had been in place last year, the district’s two psychologists would have spent more than 900 hours on behavioral assessments.
Charter Schools, Too
The current draft policy would apply only to traditional public schools. Several commenters, including the ACLU of Ohio, wrote that it should apply to charter schools too. Other comments wrote that the policy should apply to private schools accepting vouchers, too.
The more than 100 public comments also include calls from advocacy groups to eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools and calls from parents for more training of school staff.
“I have a serious concern that my District has NOT done enough to train the staff that come into contact with my Autistic son. We have had 3 one-on-one aides and only after an abusive incident with the last aide did we finally get one that has some experience,” one parent wrote.
The state board is set to vote on the policy in December. It would take effect in schools starting in the 2013-14 school year.