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Fairfax school system settles dispute over seclusion, duress, but questions remain

Some parents belonging to the Fairfax County Special Education PTA (SEPTA) have said they are concerned about how the school system plans to implement some of the new requirements stipulated in a regulation – notably, the extent of the training of the special education staff.

This article was written by InsideNoVa.com, WTOP Information Partner, and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

Disability rights organizations and families have reached an agreement with Fairfax County Public Schools regarding the use by school staff of physical restraint and seclusion on special education students.

But some parents who belong to the Fairfax County Special Education PTA (SEPTA) have said they are concerned about how the school system is planning to implement some of the new requirements stipulated in the regulation – notably, the scope training of special education personnel.

“We had no idea what to expect following the trial,” SEPTA President Michelle Cades told Inside NoVa. “We weren’t aware of anything that was going on, so we’re certainly very happy with the amount of information that was released. But we certainly still have questions.

In March 2019, an investigation by public radio station WAMU found that Fairfax had failed to report to the US Department of Education hundreds of incidents of restraint and seclusion used on students with disabilities over several years. Fairfax did not report any incidents of restraint and seclusion in 2009, 2013 and 2015, when in reality the number numbered in the thousands.

Seven months later, three disability rights organizations – the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates, Autistic Self Advocacy Network and CommunicationFirst – and the families of six students with disabilities sued the school system, alleging that staff at the school had disproportionately used restraint and isolation on disabled students, causing them physical damage and psychological trauma.

Jennifer Tidd, parent of one student, provided documents showing her 13-year-old son, who is non-verbal and autistic, has been immobilized and isolated 745 times in seven years – 422 times in a general education setting and 323 moreover in a privately contracted establishment managed by Fairfax.

Tidd noted in the costume that on several occasions, even though his son was clean, he soiled himself and defecated on himself to escape the room where he was isolated. As a result of these experiences, Tidd said her child had severely regressed and was afraid to enter any room with a closed door, sleep alone in her bedroom, and take a shower or bath with no parent nearby.

In response to these allegations, in 2019, after completing an independent review of its restraint and seclusion guidelines, Fairfax created a policy prohibiting seclusion and several forms of restraint, including lying down and lying down, in all schools. Fairfax General Education before January 1, 2021. Isolation is still permitted in special education schools, including Burke School, Key Center and Kilmer Center, until the start of the 2022-2023 school year, date on which it will also be banned in these establishments.

In addition, the school system funded several new staff positions dedicated to reviewing special education programs and supporting parents in special education. School staff were also expected to complete a five-module online training series on Restraint and Isolation Policies and Procedures, De-escalation and Prevention, by January 1, 2021.

However, in early April, Inside NoVa reported that special education staff complained to SEPTA about the online training they received, saying the modules did not adequately prepare them for real-world problems in the classroom. .

Nine months later, even with the lawsuit settled, SEPTA’s Cades continues to hear similar complaints, particularly from staff working at full-service sites – areas within school buildings designated to assist students in the classroom. special education.

“We also heard from elementary CSS teachers who said to me, ‘We haven’t been trained yet, we don’t have these tools,’” she added.

All isolation, restraint must be banned

Details of the settlement between Fairfax County Public Schools and the plaintiffs were not fully disclosed. But according to a joint press release from the parties, the court asked Fairfax to meet the self-imposed deadline to ban all isolation practices and its use of physical restraint, including restraints. mechanical, chemical, lying, lying and strangled, in all schools, as well as private placement schools, by the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

Until the ban takes effect, parents can submit a letter from a qualified medical or psychological health professional stating that the restraint would be harmful to the student, according to the press release.

Fairfax is also to retain the services of Ukeru Systems, an unconstrained behavior management technique, and Dr Ross Greene, clinical child psychologist and founder of Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, as consultants to help train staff. and implement a plan to eliminate the need for physical restraint and seclusion. The school district must provide quarterly public reports on Greene’s recommendations and data on all acts of duress and isolation.

Greene, who lives in Portland, Maine, created the collaborative model to help teachers identify skills the child is lacking or expectations that they are struggling to meet in an effort to help them resolve the problem before a child’s behavior escalates.

Cades said she and other SEPTA members are delighted that the scope of these new requirements covers so much ground and that the school system is working with Greene (whose model they have championed and supported in the past). . But she is wary because the school system has promised changes in the past, and several months later, she maintains that school staff are still using old methods, such as seclusion, to defuse incidents.

“We have currently only heard of a number of schools that are going to receive the training, but we can tell you that this school year we have heard reports of children who are still isolated in schools that are not. are not. list, ”she said.

Compulsory training well advanced

A spokesperson for Fairfax Schools said the system began mandatory training for all staff long before the settlement. By November, virtually all employees had completed an initial 90-minute de-escalation training from the Virginia Department of Education, which covers alternative strategies related to supporting positive behaviors, conflict prevention, de-escalation and crisis response.

But Diane Cooper-Gould, SEPTA’s advocacy chair and parent of a Fairfax student with a disability, told Inside NoVa she didn’t think 90 minutes was enough to train staff working with special education students in all circumstances. , much less a day-to-day.

“I don’t even want to call it training because it wasn’t,” she said.

“When the kids started school this year, the teachers couldn’t use seclusion and they had kids they didn’t know what to do with,” Cooper-Gould added. “They weren’t trained on anything else and I literally went to meetings where the staff said, ‘We haven’t been trained yet. “”

The Fairfax spokesperson said Greene held training sessions with special education staff at schools where incidents of restraint and seclusion were highest before the new policy was implemented. The spokesperson added that all Fairfax schools have staff who have received more advanced training, but did not specify what the training involves or how long it lasts.

“We are already ahead of schedule for all training sessions and reporting requirements as agreed in the regulations,” the spokesperson said.

Cades said she hoped more details of the new requirements would be made public, such as the training new staff will receive, how it will be taught and how long it will take.

“In the meantime, we continue to ask questions about the deployment and the plans,” she said. “We recognize that this is a really huge school system and that it will be a process for everyone to be trained.”


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