Last week’s story by Emily Parkhurst about the use of therapeutic restraints on students in schools throughout southern Maine asked several key questions.
• Are school staffers properly trained and certified to safely restrain students using potentially life-threatening physical holds?
• How often are these dangerous restraints employed?
• Which school employees are restraining students?
• And should the holds, which have killed or seriously injured at least 10 children around the country, even be allowed in Maine?
The answers to these questions shouldn’t be hard to get. But as Parkhurst’s story revealed, they are – largely because Maine fails to closely monitor the schools or empower parents to challenge the use of restraints, and because school officials hide behind the flawed argument that providing answers would violate student privacy rights.
The schools and their attorney claim the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act trumps Maine’s Freedom of Access Act when it comes to the release of information. We disagree, along with an attorney for the Maine Press Association, who bluntly told Parkhurst “the schools are violating state law.”
Since publication of the story, we’ve also heard from the chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee of the national Society of Professional Journalists and the executive director of the national Student Press Law Center. They used words like “phooey” and “questionable” to describe the schools’ refusal to provide redacted records that conceal students’ personal information.
Contrary to the schools’ argument, redacting information doesn’t force them to create new documents. In fact, it’s a common way for government agencies to provide documents that contain information unrelated to a Freedom of Access request. Their refusal to provide the requested information leads us to conclude they are more concerned about protecting the identities of their employees than they are about protecting their students. And that’s not the purpose of FERPA.
In the meantime, parents like Bob and Mary Ann Baizley of Scarborough should be praised for the courage they’ve shown by allowing their son’s story to be told. Parkhurst’s story has also encouraged other families to come forward with their stories of young children subjected to physical restraint at the discretion of public schools employees. There undoubtedly are many more.
As more of these people gain the courage to speak out, and as they are joined by other Mainers who are concerned about the safety and well-being of all public school children, perhaps things will change.
It’s time for Maine public school officials to stop concealing information that some states already require their schools to make public on an annual basis.
It makes you wonder what Maine educators have to hide, doesn’t it?