An inside look at school seclusion: ‘It’s really important’

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — You’ve heard and seen the painful stories of children hurt while restrained or secluded in school.

Now, 8News is getting an inside look at a seclusion room in a local specialized school.

Some schools, teachers and even parents have told 8News that in a crisis situation or working with students with behavioral issues, it can be absolutely necessary for everyone’s safety.

And they tell us, if done correctly, no one should get hurt.

“We want to make sure that we have a safe padded space for them,” says Eli Newcomb, Director of Education at the Faison Center in Henrico.  He’s pointing out a safety separation room in a classroom at the school.  The walls and floor of the room are padded.  The Faison Center is a school for children with autism and sometimes serious behavioral issues.

Newcomb stresses secluding or restraining a student is reserved for when there is an imminent risk of injury to the student or others.

“There is a lot of other things you can do before that,” Newcomb explained.

Still, restraint and seclusion do happen at the school, and the parents 8News spoke with are OK with it.

Holly Aldridge’s tells 8News there have been times where it’s been necessary for the school to restrain or isolate her teenage son.

“He said mom, I could have hurt somebody,” she said.

Sarah Ratner says her son has had to be restrained and secluded, too.

“There have been times when as a last resort that some type of intervention like that was necessary for him not to hurt other people,” says Ratner.

But she says it’s only happened when there was an emergency.

“It is limited entirely to an imminent risk of a physical injury to somebody. It is not about getting control over him or sassy mouth,” says Ratner.

Yet both parents and staff say it shouldn’t look or result in anything like the incidents 8News has reported on in the past in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Loudoun County.

“It doesn’t happen like that. No one is left alone in an enclosed room that they can’t see out of,” says Ratner. 

 Aldridge recalls the video of a teacher dragging a student down a hallway in Virginia Beach.

“That is terrible. It is wrong, it shouldn’t happen. They people are understaffed and not trained is probably what it has come down to,” she says.

Kathy Matthews, the Vice President of Educational Outreach at Faison, says that’s never proper protocol.

“No, never that’s not proper at all to me that indicates a complete lack of training,” says Matthews.

She tells 8News everyone at Faison is trained and tested annually in de-escalation skills.

“The very first thing we teach people to do is to just get out of the way,” Matthews said. “If I have a student who has become escalated and they have a chair and they are about to hit you with it -move, that’s it.”

If there’s a life-threatening situation and a child must be restrained, she says there are proper techniques.

“If they do the restraint properly, no one gets hurt,” says Aldridge.

And when it comes to isolation, Newcomb tells us, “It is really important to have these rooms set up is to be sure there is a place to observe them, so using a window obviously.”

Both Ratner and Aldridge tell us when there is a situation, they’re notified immediately.

“I am provided a detailed explanation about what transpired,” says Ratner.

Both say they feel confident their children are in good hands at Faison.

“He’s safe and learning and happy,” says Ratner.

Aldridge tells us, “He is very happy here, he never complains about coming to school.”

The Virginia Department of Education is currently finalizing regulations for the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools.  Private school regulations are already set.

An 8News investigation found there were more than 28,000 incidents of restraint or seclusion in private schools in the past two years. Parents we spoke with at Faison argue the numbers don’t tell the full story. They say the student population and their behavioral issues must be considered.  

Still, others tell 8News that’s an alarming number and they question if anyone is reviewing these incidents. 

Meanwhile, parent and staff at Faison hope the State guidelines for public schools include a crisis plan that is shared with parents, training for all staff and mandatory reporting and review of all incidents.

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