School Committee Hears of Changes to Use of Physical Restraint in Schools

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By Mitch Evans

timeoutA new set of statewide regulations approved late last year by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will phase in this fall and take full effect in January 2016. In light of these more stringent protocols, a presentation was made to the School Committee on October 6 by Catherine Fortin who is Bedford’s Out of District Special Education Coordinator. Fortin has been working with Director of Special Education, Marianne Vines, on amending Bedford Public Schools’ existing policies on physical restraint regulations and program and safety standards.

These new guidelines stipulate physical restraints are an “emergency procedure of last resort.” New language prohibits public education programs from using restraints except when a student’s behavior could cause physical harm and the student does not respond to “verbal directives or other lawful and less intrusive behavior interventions.” The new regulations stipulate that public school staff will no longer be able to restrain students in immobilized, face down positions, in most cases, or place a student in a time-out outside of class for more than 30 minutes without a principal’s approval. Other notable changes include the prohibitive use of mechanical restraint, medical restraint and the previously absent requirement that schools and programs must report all uses of physical restraints to the state on an annual basis.

Time-out is defined as the removal of a child from an apparently reinforcing setting to a non-reinforcing setting for a specified and limited period of time. Time-out is time away from positive reinforcement and is a frequently used intervention for behavior management in classrooms. There are two types of time out, inclusionary for less intense behaviors and exclusionary for higher intensity behaviors. Regulations now allow for a time-out room within public schools. However, students must be continuously observed in these rooms by a member of staff, and once their behavior has de-escalated their timeout ceases. Massachusetts’ new rules also increase training requirements for school staff members and mandate that schools convene a team to come up with a plan for any student restrained multiple times in a single week.

Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Mitchell Chester, said in a statement, “The restraint regulations that the Board approved strike the appropriate balance, protecting individual student safety and well-being, as well as the safety of the school community….The new regulations will also generate more data to inform any future adjustments to the regulations.”

Please contact Bedford Public Schools Director of Special Education Marianne Vines, with any questions or for a copy of the presentation.