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Last Updated: 04/12/2018


School Admins Push For Leeway On Seclusion Ban; Lawmakers Won't Yield

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MIRS, April 21, 2016

The devil is in the details of the Lieutenant Governor's legislative package to scrub seclusion and restraint procedures from the state's education system.

At the heart of the 10-bill package is the prohibition of seclusion rooms and limiting restraint and seclusion only to emergency situations where a child's behavior poses an immediate threat to themselves or others. Administrators from around the state testified before the House Education Committee, pushing for more leeway for the use of seclusion rooms.

Behavior consultant for Wayne RESA Chris McEVOY, who helped craft the Michigan Department of Education's 2006 seclusion and restraint policy on which the current package is based, said he was concerned about the elimination of seclusion rooms altogether. McEvoy suggested that a space that would meet the "normal classroom environment" requirement of the bill would not be the most appropriate space for calming a child.

Rep. Frank LIBERATI (D-Allen Park), who sponsored two bills in the package, said that that the bill drafters are working on amendments to clarify the phrase "normal teaching environment" to address concerns that may preclude use of rooms or environments developed specifically or special-needs students.

"A lot of students have stimulus issues, and [lower stimulus rooms] wouldn't be, shouldn't be prohibited," Liberati said, describing "step down" rooms with dimmed lighting and comfortable chairs, or even rooms with swings for soothing. "We're not trying to prohibit things that are research-based and time and time again are shown they work."

Angela TELFER, director of Kalamazoo's WoodsEdge Learning Center, expressed concern that the broad ban on seclusion would end the use of "quiet rooms" that her facility uses to allow a student to calm him or herself. Telfer said, this practice is meant to reward self-calming behavior rather than dominate a student.

But bill sponsors are unwilling to budge on the outright ban. Liberati said the room described by Telfer is more like a booth than a room, being only a few feet wide, and is exactly the device the legislation is aimed at banning.

"It's been a long time developing the package and there's been a lot of suggestions for changes," Liberati said. "I think one of the final sticking points is going to be the use of seclusion rooms."

Other improvements to the package in the works include expanding the training requirements to include paraprofessionals, who often help teachers handle behavior issues. There is also a proposal to reinsert use of "emergency intervention plans," -- a tool included in the Michigan Department of Education's seclusion and restraint guidelines that was left out of the original bill draft intending to discourage seclusion and restraint use.

"We'll be meeting half way on a lot of things, but meeting halfway on the seclusion rooms I don't see happening," Liberati said.

Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY sharply criticized McEvoy's concern that requiring school districts to create a "generic districtwide plan" for behavioral intervention would supersede the individualized behavior plans required by federal law.

"The thing that concerned me most is the characterization as though (Individual Education Programs) IEPs would somehow be standardized throughout this process," Calley said. "The reason that there was a request to have a school-wide policy and not to set restraint policies for individual students was that its sets the expectation that restraint will be used on a student ahead of time."

Calley called it a "shocking assertion" that a school-wide policy would compromise parent involvement. Calley clarified that the only involvement the package would prohibit is for a parent to consent to the restraint and seclusion practices outlawed.


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