Portland School Board loosening student physical restraint rules

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PORTLAND — The School Board on Feb. 3 gave first reading to a policy that will relax restrictions on use of physical restraint and seclusion against students.

The new policy essentially removes the requirement of “imminent danger” from situations where restraint or seclusion can be employed.

Sharon Pray, the district’s director of student support services, said the new language is intended to keep the schools safe and to ensure teachers don’t feel helpless in the event they need to physically guide a student away from a situation.

“With the old law people were afraid to even touch students to keep them from harming themselves or others,” Pray said.

She said the old interpretation was that teachers couldn’t touch students under any circumstance.

“So there was a huge outcry back after (a 2009)  law was enacted, stating this is crazy because there are kids with disabilities who are non-verbal, they may be autistic, and they may run out of the building and into the street,” Pray said.

Pray said teachers across the state felt “helpless” in the event they needed to bring a student back inside, and changing the language from “imminent danger” to simply “in danger” helps teachers utilize the policy and not be in violation of any law.

Pray also said things once considered restraint, like holding a student’s arm to bring them inside or redirect them, will no longer be off limits.

“So now it is written that if you were to guide a student by holding their arm, and guiding them and walking them down the hall and bringing them back into a safe location, that is not considered a restraint anymore,” Pray said.

Another result of the policy change will be fewer meetings following the use of restraint. Pray said after three instances of restraint, the teachers would have to have meetings with the Individualized Education Plan team, and Pray said this is a big process that limits what teachers feel they can accomplish.

“So the biggest result of this change in my opinion is there are certain things we can do as best practice that is safe for the kids (and) safe for the school environment,” she said.

Pray said the changes in the seclusion part of the policy mirror the restraint update. A secluded student must be in a room of at least 60 square feet, it must be free of any hazardous materials and electrical outlets, and must be of the same ceiling height as the rest of the school.

Pray also said students can’t be in seclusion for more than 10 minutes without an administrator deciding if they need more time. She also said students who voluntarily go into a “sensory break room” will not be considered secluded.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.