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CT: Schools see MORE AUTISM/BEHAVIORAL NEEDS; more restraint/seclusion

City schools used restraint and seclusion as emergency interventions for students with special needs to a much greater extent than other school districts throughout Connecticut during the 2020-2021 school year, according to publicly reported data.

Meriden Public Schools reported 1,435 incidents involving restraint or seclusion occurred during that school year, the most recent year for which such data is available. Those incidents involved 74 students with special needs, according to the State Department of Education’s “Annual Report on the Use of Physical Restraint and Seclusion in Connecticut,” released earlier this year.

At least one, but fewer than seven incidents resulted in an injury, according to the report. Exact numbers between one and six are not made available to protect student privacy.

Meanwhile, across Connecticut, 23,511 cumulative incidents were reported. Those incidents included 10,836 emergency restraints, 7,901 emergency seclusions and 4,774 forcible escort restraints. Overall, 2,197 students, or 2.6% of all students with disabilities enrolled that year, were restrained and/or secluded. Across the state, 134 of those incidents resulted in injuries, both non-serious and serious. According to the state report, six of those injuries were considered serious.

Several other school districts in the state also reported more than 100 incidents where such measures needed to be used. However, there was a significant gap between the number of times the use of such measures was reported in Meriden schools compared to those other districts. The district reporting the next highest number of incidents —New Britain Public Schools with 393 incidents — was still significantly lower than Meriden.

Difficult to compare districts

Meriden school officials attributed the comparatively high utilization of restraint and seclusion to several different factors.

Local officials prioritize the placement of students into specialized programs within their neighborhood schools, rather than sending those students to privately run programs outside the school system. In other school districts where students are outplaced to in-state programs, data around restraint and seclusion is reported directly by those programs and not by students’ sending districts. …

Another reason, local leaders say, is due to lawmakers’ revision in recent years of a state law that mandates the reporting of restraint and seclusion. Prior to the 2019-2020 school year, the annual tallies separately reported instances where seclusion was utilized because it was part of students’ behavior intervention plans. The law no longer allows such interventions to be included in behavior intervention plans. The law, as revised in 2018, added a new reporting category: forcible escort restraints. This category applied to situations where students were escorted, “forcibly or otherwise,” in response to an emergency situation. Prior to that year, such escorts, “regardless of the amount of force required,” were not reported as restraints, according to the state report.

Meriden also strives to accurately record and report such incidents, explained Patricia Sullivan-Kowalski, the school district’s director of pupil personnel.

Increased student need

Sullivan-Kowalski noted that students’ needs have increased. The district continues to see increases in students on the autism spectrum or who have other behavioral needs, like emotional disturbance.

“To me, what’s really important is how we build a community of support for children,” Sullivan-Kowalski said, adding that children, including those with documented disabilities, arrive at school with increased needs for mental health support.

That need is also seen by hospital clinicians and therapists across the state and country, Sullivan-Kowalksi said. …

Sullivan-Kowalski said local schools have seen more dysregulated behavior in younger students, and have implemented programs over the last few years to address the issue.

Those newer programs include a one-week summer program for those students, which allows them to attend school prior to their older classmates’ arrival and enables them to get used to a daily school routine. …

Supporting local districts

Complicating efforts to address the increased needs are staffing shortages, which impact state agencies, like the State Department of Education and individual school districts, like Meriden.

Meanwhile, a statewide group continues to discuss ways to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion. …

When a student’s behavior is a result of disability, the student’s planning and placement team “is responsible for considering the impacts of the behavior on others when determining the appropriate placement for the student,” the letter stated. That consideration could mean changes in settings or support services for those students “to more effectively address the behavior and ensure safety.”…

The district’s regulations require an employee to regularly evaluate students in restraint or seclusion “for signs of physical distress.”

Some parents say their children have faced considerable challenges as a result of restraint and seclusion.

The parent of one of those students told the Record-Journal her child is no longer enrolled in the Meriden Public Schools. Another parent, whose child is still enrolled in Meriden, said the child is struggling.

Children in all districts are struggling, in part due to labor shortages. …

Feinstein said maladaptive behaviors are in many ways inherent parts of a student’s disability. “If the child c

annot communicate with their peers, if they cannot read like their peers, the result is very often engaging in disruptive maladaptive behavior,” he said. “That is what’s going on there. By secluding the child, by physically restraining the child, you’re not dealing with the disability. In fact, you’re exacerbating the issue. That’s what’s so troubling about it.”


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