SCARBOROUGH — The School Board has rubber-stamped the first reading of several proposed policy changes, including the way parents and students access educational records, the definition of what qualifies as public and private information, and the way students with disabilities are identified, treated, and removed from school.
The proposed changes come on the heels of a series of stories published by The Forecaster that looked into the use of therapeutic restraints on special education students in Scarborough and other Maine schools.
“The changes were externally driven,” said School Board member and chairwoman of the policy committee Jane Wiseman. “No changes were made by the policy committee.”
While policies surrounding therapeutic restraints and seclusion are proposed to be adjusted, a policy change requested by the state Department of Education in July 2009 was not included.
The DOE’s letter, sent to all Maine superintendents, asked that policies be updated to prohibit “the use of any restraint that restricts the free movement of the diaphragm or chest or that restricts the airway so as to interrupt normal breathing or speech of students” and requires that all school personnel who may restrain students be informed of the prohibition.
“There’s no reason that shouldn’t be included,” Diane Smith, an attorney for the Maine Disability Rights Center, said.
The Forecaster’s investigation into Scarborough’s use of prone restraints, shown in a U.S. Government Accountability Report to be airway restrictive and therefore dangerous or even fatal, revealed that the method was used frequently on at least three special education students, sometimes as often as several times per day.
“I will call the Department of Education tomorrow and request the information regarding the recommendation to prohibit airway-restrictive restraints,” said Wiseman. “I have also requested copies of all restraint policies from MSMA (Maine School Management Association).”
The adjustments to the restraint and seclusion policy also do not reflect a new requirement that a school nurse evaluate a student after he or she is restrained.
Another story in The Forecaster cited nearly 100 restraints done on three Scarborough elementary school boys in three years. In some cases, a nurse did not examine the child until two or three days after the restraint occurred, and in other cases, did not examine the child at all.
During the Sept. 2 meeting, Director of Special Education Alison Marchese said the policy changes were recommended by the School Department’s attorney.
“If our lawyers are recommending this, we sure as heck better take this,” board member Jacquelyn Perry said.
While Perry suggested a few grammatical changes to the recommendations, no substantive changes were made during the meeting and all the policy updates were approved unanimously.
Wiseman said she encouraged citizens with input on the policy changes to contact her or any other board member as soon as possible.
Peter Felmly, an attorney at Drummond Woodsum who has worked with Scarborough in the past, said he was not involved in the policy changes and was looking into who was, but could not determine that by deadline.
The Board of Education will hold a public hearing and take a final vote on the policy changes at its Sept. 16 meeting.
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org