How best to deal with special needs students who become disruptive was the subject of a sometimes contentious Capitol hearing Thursday. The authors of proposed legislation say existing guidelines are inadequate, and lawmakers heard disturbing testimony regarding students being locked alone in rooms, or injured in restraints. Jeff Spitzer-Reznick of Disability Rights Wisconsin said they’ve met with the state teachers’ union and other stakeholders, on how to address use of seclusion and restraint in schools. He said the state Department of Public Instruction hired a mediator to bring the two sides together. “They said ‘we want school safety.’ We said ‘we do, too. What are your ideas?’ And the answers were none. No ideas.”

“I want to tell you that’s not true,” Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell told the Senate Education Committee. “We participated in those discussions, and WEAC supports reasonable approaches to a safe environment.” Bell said WEAC supports additional training, and reporting incidents of isolation and restraint to parents, but that the legislation (SB 468) proposed by Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) and Representative Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) goes “beyond that, to an inappropriate level.”

Senator Lassa said it’s difficult to determine how often seclusion and restraint are used in Wisconsin schools. “The directive (from DPI) doesn’t even say that teachers have to report to district administrators when they use seclusion and restraint,” Lassa. “We don’t know how often seclusion and restraint is happening, unless a child or a staff person is injured.” Lassa and Pasch noted that twenty other states have established more specific guidelines, and Pash cited Illinois as an example. “I’ve been amazed at the reluctance to move forward on this, because it’s interpreted as we’re taking away from teachers,” Pasch said. “We’re putting something forward for teachers to use, and that’s what the Illinois model does. It says teachers and school personnel need to be trained in the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).”

Implementation of PBIS and reduction of seclusion and restraints will “make schools safer and improve academic performance,” said Spitzer-Reznick. “All of that is very valuable, we would support that,” said Bell. “We support data reporting, so that we have an accurate measure of what the situations are. And inexcusable treatments are inexcusable treatments, and we need to deal with those.”

There were also concerns raised about the costs to districts of implementing additional training, and potential lawsuits. David Kwiatkowski with CESA 8 and the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services said small rural school districts can least afford another unfunded mandate from the state. “The lawsuit that the district faces would cost them much more than investing in the teaching of their staff in the proper use of seclusion and restraint,” said Lassa. “This something we believe is going to help school districts provide a safe environment for both students and staff.”

AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:15 MP3) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:15 MP3)

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