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2014 Convention News
Washington, DC, February 18–21

Presenters Up Close — Developing Comprehensive School Policies on Restraint and Seclusion

By Brian M. Yankouski & Thomas Massarelli

The issue of restraint and seclusion in schools has become a popular topic in recent years. This is in part due to the Government Accountability Office's (GAO, 2009) report about alleged abuse and death of students in schools resulting from the misuse of restraint and seclusion procedures by school personnel. School psychologists are often at the heart of these issues, both in terms of helping school staff and families understand appropriate use of procedures and in helping adults prevent or intervene with the behaviors that might require restraint or seclusion. Following is an interview with NASP 2014 convention presenters, Brian Yankouski and Thomas Massarelli, related to their mini-skills presentation, Developing Comprehensive School Policies on Restraint and Seclusion, Thursday, February 20, 2014. They discuss some of the current issues regarding school policy development and how they could potentially impact the field of school psychology.

NASP: How would you characterize the current national landscape regarding seclusion and restraint policies in schools?

Yankouski & Massarelli: Nationally, the current landscape regarding restraint and seclusion policies in schools is scattered. At the federal level, the Keeping All Students Safe Act (2011) has been introduced for the past 3 years, but has not yet passed in both the House and the Senate. This proposed legislation would be effective on this topic, as it would federally mandate states to develop laws and district policies on restraint and seclusion. Additionally, the legislation would mandate all public and private school employees to be trained by accredited crisis intervention training programs in the proper use of restraint and seclusion procedures, as well as in preventive measures such as positive behavioral interventions and supports. Also, the legislation would ensure more oversight with the use of these procedures in schools by mandating data collection on restraint and seclusion at the federal, state, and local levels. Since this legislation was proposed in the past few years, many states took it upon themselves to develop their own state laws, policies, or regulations on restraint and seclusion. While this is a commendable effort by these states, the problem that occurs is that the contents of these state laws vary widely and are not always aligned to best practice recommendations in restraint and seclusion. Therefore, if a federal law was in place that would help guide states and dictate what is best practice in this area, we would be able to get away from this variation in standards that we are seeing from state to state. Finally, without financial support from the federal government, this also becomes a burden for schools, as training from accredited crisis intervention training programs on restraint and seclusion can be expensive. Therefore, a lack of funding for schools can create a potential barrier for staff to receive appropriate training.

NASP: What problems have you seen arise as a result of less than optimal policies and procedures in schools with respect to seclusion and restraint?

Yankouski & Massarelli: Throughout our experiences, we have seen countless problems arise from either no policy on restraint and seclusion being in place or poorly designed policies that do not follow best practice recommendations. One of the major issues is that school professionals end up mishandling situations and misusing restraint and seclusion, which can be detrimental to students physically, psychologically, socially, and emotionally. Along with this problem, we have seen policies implemented but not followed due to lack of administrative support. Moreover, one of the most significant issues that we see is the increase of lawsuits and institutional abuse claims due to no policy or poorly designed policies being in place. We cannot stress enough the importance of having a well-constructed and comprehensive policy in place. Parents and guardians must receive the policy each year and must consent to the use of these procedures. Furthermore, it is important that the policy has strict guidelines on documenting incidents and a protocol for informing parents and guardians of such incidents the same day.

One of the last major problems that we see are policies that send a message to families that the school does not believe this is an issue that they should be dealing with or that law enforcement and school resource officers can handle unruly students. This is a significant area of concern because our students are not criminals; they are children and should be treated in a humane manner. Students with emotional and social challenges in life run a greater risk of being restrained or secluded in schools, but they are not criminals, so placing a child like this in handcuffs in a school does not solve the problem, and instead may escalate incidents further. The answers to preventing this problem are greater awareness about students with emotional and behavioral problems, increasing mental health support services in the schools, recognizing that classroom staff are the first line of defense in prevention, and providing appropriate staff training and support in order to be able to effectively deal with crisis situations when they do occur.

Our final comment on this topic is that essentially the school policy should be guiding the practices that are put forth in the school and vice versa. Therefore, policies should be reviewed and revised annually in order to ensure that best practices are being followed. Also, there needs to be the administrative support and staff buy-in to the policies and procedures that are being implemented in the school in order to ensure both staff and student safety.

NASP: What are the top three elements of a model seclusion/restraint policy?

Yankouski & Massarelli: This is a tough question to narrow down to just a top three because there are so many components required to create a comprehensive school policy on restraint and seclusion that fully embodies best practices in this area. However, we would recommend that the top three elements or themes that should permeate throughout the policy would be a focus on prevention, crisis intervention, and postvention or debriefing. By structuring a school policy around these three areas it helps to focus the school psychologist and administrator by following the natural progression of the various phases of a crisis episode with a student. Lastly, a school policy on restraint and seclusion should be written to include all students. Too many policies tend to focus on the use of these procedures only with students in special education. Realistically, the policy applies to all students because even a student in the general education setting could be subjected to these procedures.

NASP: What preparation should school psychologists and other school staff have in order to be in a position to implement model policies?

Yankouski & Massarelli: In order to be the most effective in implementing and even assisting administration in designing these model policies, school psychologists do need more advanced training in this area. Our recommendation is for school psychologists to seek out training to become a certified instructor to teach the appropriate use of restraint and seclusion in schools. This advanced training can be sought through an accredited crisis intervention training company, such as the Crisis Prevention Institute or Handle With Care Behavior Management System, to name a couple. We advise school psychologists to research the crisis intervention training company to help develop a better understanding of the company's philosophy in handling crisis situations and what types of restraint positions they teach as part of their trainings. We recommend reviewing the article, A Review of Crisis Intervention Training Programs for Schools, for a more in-depth understanding of some crisis intervention programs that are available to school psychologists and other school personnel in this area (Couvillon et al., 2010).

NASP: What are some suggestions for school psychologists to improve collaboration around and advocate for improved policies and procedures for seclusion and restraint in schools?

Yankouski & Massarelli: Advocacy is such a large part of our jobs as school psychologists; we feel that our voices definitely need to be heard to advocate for the safety of the children we serve. We suggest that school psychologists partner with state psychological associations and other organizations or agencies to advocate for laws, policies, or regulations at the state and local levels. They can become involved in advocating for change at the federal level as well. Also, collaboration within the school is crucial to develop effective policies and procedures on this issue. Therefore, we suggest working closely with administrators, school nurses, child study team members, and other professionals within the schools. When developing policies on restraint and seclusion, this multidisciplinary team can also examine crisis plans at the school, classroom, and individual levels to include restraint and seclusion practices. Our forthcoming chapter on the topic of restraint and seclusion in Best Practices in School Psychology: Student-Level Services will also be a useful resource to school psychologists regarding school policy development as well as other best practice recommendations related to restraint and seclusion.

References

Couvillon, M., Peterson, R. L., Ryan, J. B., Scheuermann, B., & Stegall, J. (2010). A review of crisis intervention training programs for schools. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(5), 6–17.

GAO-09-719T: Seclusions and restraints–selected cases of death and abuse at public and private schools and treatment centers: Testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, 111th Cong. 3 (2009) (testimony of Gregory D. Kutz).

Keeping All Students Safe Act of 2011, H.R. 1381, 112th Cong. (2011). Retrieved from http://thomas.loc.gov/home/gpoxmlc112/h1381_ih.xml


Brian M. Yankouski, MA, BCBA is a graduate student in the education specialist degree program for school psychology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey and is the founder and clinical director of Behavioral and Educational Solutions and Training of New Jersey. Thomas Massarelli, PhD, is director of the school and community psychology program at Seton Hall University and is a practicing school psychologist.