Physical Restraint and Seclusion: Roots of the Problem
Roots of the Problem
It has been a source of great frustration during our careers that this topic seems to have been largely avoided. We have often heard, ''Well, if teachers program correctly, that just shouldn't happen.'' In reality, no teacher is perfect, and regardless of the best intentions and efforts of educators, sometimes dangerous situations do arise. So we are not going to avoid this topic, but rather confront it honestly and head-on in hopes of providing guidance to other teachers who may also be frustrated. This crisis has been many years in the making and has multiple roots.
Current School Culture
Public schools today face pressure to ensure that learning environments are safe places for everyone. Extreme and rare cases, such as the fatal stabbing of a music teacher by a sixteen-year-old special education student in Texas in 2009, can lead to overreaction in terms of zero tolerance policies and being too quick to use or abuse physical restraint or seclusion practices.
Lack of Regulation
At the time of GAO's investigative report on the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools, only twenty-four states had established policies or provided any type of guidelines to school districts, the content was varied, and the policies were not necessarily legally binding in all cases. The use of seclusion and restraint is regulated and controlled in every other setting that serves youth with emotional and behavioral challenges (state hospitals, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, and others). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not mention seclusion and restraint, providing no legal recourse for their misuse or abuse in school settings.
Lack of Training
Teachers of students with emotional and behavioral disorders are consistently among the highest-ranked personnel shortage area, and a disproportionate number of them are uncertified or alternatively certified, resulting in a lack of much-needed specialized training.9 In fact, approximately 65 percent of teachers of students with emotional and behavioral disorders enter the field without being fully certified,10 and their burnout is higher than that of any other group of teachers.11 The result is that the teachers holding these positions have significantly fewer years of teaching experience than other special and general education teachers.
Paraprofessionals who are often assigned to be one-on-one aides to potentially aggressive students are not required to have any specialized training in positive behavior support. Those in leadership positions, such as building and district administrators, often have even less experience and training in working with this population than do special education staff. The bottom line is that the most difficult-to-manage students are being taught in too many cases by the least prepared educators.
This is a recipe for disaster and not solely the fault or responsibility of the local education agency. State departments of education, institutions of higher education, and government accountability agencies all need to become involved in the solution to this problem. The goal is to ensure that teachers certified to teach this challenging population have had the specialized training needed to be considered minimally qualified, if not highly qualified, as required by No Child Left Behind.
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