Safe keeping: Report tells of students restrained, secluded

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Frank Schultz
Friday, August 9, 2013

JANESVILLE—Teachers, aides and other school staff had to physically restrain Janesville public school students 175 times last school year.

Students were placed in “seclusion rooms” 237 times.

Students were both restrained and secluded 64 times.

Those numbers reflect students who are so violent or unruly that trained staff members believed they had no alternative.

On average, district staff members dealt with this kind of behavior somewhere in the district more than twice a day, every day.

Behaviors include throwing things, kicking, highly disruptive screaming or yelling, climbing on furniture, running out of school, attacking other students or resisting a staff member, said Barb Kelley, assistant director of special education.

Sometimes, restraint is not needed.

“It's definitely a last resort, … when a student puts himself or others at risk of being harmed,” Kelley said.

Kelley prepared a report on these incidents that the Janesville School Board will receive at its meeting Tuesday. It's the first of its kind for the district. A new state law requires the annual reports in all school districts.

Kelley, who has a long career in education, said she doesn't think Janesville is much different from most districts, but that opinion is impossible to verify until data become available for other districts.

Districts must report to the state by Sept. 1.

One district that has already reported its numbers is Wausau, which had 408 incidents of seclusion or restraint last school year.

That compares with 476 for Janesville.

Wausau's preschool-through-12th-grade enrollment was around 8,600 last year. Janesville's was 10,327.

This is not to say that local schools have hundreds of violent children. Only 47 students accounted for all 476 incidents last year, according to the report. Of those students, 29 had been identified as having disabilities.

Many of those students have emotional disabilities, Kelley said. Others have mental disturbances or other behavior problems.

Staff members are trained to handle such students. They learn techniques “designed to be non-harmful, non-invasive and to maintain the individual's dignity,” according to the report.

The seclusion rooms are about 8 feet square, Kelley said. The students are always observed while in seclusion. The rooms give students time to calm down so they can return to class, which can take 15 minutes to two hours, she said.

Some might ask why violent students are allowed in school at all.

“We're public education, so we do not turn any students away,” Kelley said. “We have an obligation to serve every student in the community if they come to public education.”

The schools will help families find help if they don't already have their children in treatment, Kelley said.

Kelley said the new report could help the district take a closer look at what led to the incidents with an eye toward prevention.

One big item to be considered is that the vast majority of incidents, 469, took place in elementary schools. Kelley said one reason is that police liaison officers handle many disturbances at the middle and high schools.





Last updated: 6:24 pm Friday, August 9, 2013

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