RICHMOND, Va. — Outraged parents told the Virginia Board of Education Thursday about the experiences students have had being physically restrained and isolated in school.
School divisions have used these practices to make sure kids don’t hurt themselves and others, but parents say that’s not always the case.
“Many times, I was not even sure what I did,” Alex Campbell, of Powhatan, said. “When I asked for help or asked if anyone was there – no one would answer.”
Campbell, who has autism spectrum disorder, was brought by his school principal into a seclusion room at the age of seven. The room was a converted storage closet that “had a single door with a small window,” he says, with walled painted black and no furniture. “My principal told me that I could not tell my parents about being put in the seclusion room,” Campbell said. “I remember praying that I would not wake up, but my prayers were not answered.”
Advocates say restraint and seclusion are used disproportionately on children with disabilities and minorities. Right now, there are no statewide regulations or requirements when school divisions use these methods for behavioral interventions. There are some guidelines schools can use.
“There comes a time when the state has to step in,” Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell (R-District 20) said. “
Del. Bell was behind legislation in 2014 that kick-started a process for the Commonwealth to develop rules. The BOE is in the process of finalizing the regulations and is hearing from the public on them.
“In that five years, we don’t know how many other children have been subjected to this,” Del. Bell said.
One of the main issues is tracking incidents where these methods are used. Incident reports aren’t currently required to be sent to the Department of Education. Parents, like Campbell’s, weren’t told when their child was put in a restraint or isolation.
The proposed regulations would address this by requiring schools to report annually to the DOE and to give detailed incident reports to parents.
The rules also specify that schools should only use these methods as a last resort in an emergency, to make sure a student doesn’t hurt themselves or others. They also ban using mechanical restraints.
“There are better methods than bungee cords. There are better methods than duct tape,” Del. Bell said. The board also wants all school personnel to be trained in techniques to avoid seclusion or restraint, as well as to receive additional training on safe ways to use these methods
Many parents wanted to make sure the proposed regulations clearly get rid of prone restraints, which is when a child is held face down on the floor.
“Alex was subjected to a prone restraint. We sometimes still have trouble talking about it in the house,” Sean Campbell, Alex’s dad, said.
Gov. Ralph Northam also signed into law this week HB2599, also called GiGi’s law after GiGi Zagonites, which continues to support these efforts.
School divisions are not required to use physical restraints or seclusion in its schools, but ones who elect to use them “shall comply with the requirements” detailed by the regulations once they are finalized.