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Hernando, FL: Autistic 4th grader restrained; call for more training for SPED teachers

Sept 27, 2018, Tampa Bay Times: Hernando schools aim to reduce use of restraints on special-needs students Terri Zieschang started getting calls to pick up her son from Moton Elementary School in 2016, the year her family moved to Hernando County for a new start. A fourth-grader with autism and a slew of other behavioral and health complications, Kobbi was having outbursts regularly in class. Sometimes, he tried to run away from campus…. After two more years of similar instances — both at Moton and West Hernando Middle School, where she said her son was once handcuffed and charged with battery after an altercation with another student — Zieschang decided it was time to leave…. Two years ago, Cathy Dofka presented Hernando School Board members with a hefty goal. As head of the district’s Exceptional Student Education department, she had a plan to cut in half the number of times special needs students were restrained because of behavior problems…. At the time of Dofka’s presentation, the most recent records available showed 19 incidents for the 2014-15 school year, meaning the district would aim for eight in the following year. But when she came before officials a year later, the number had climbed dramatically, to 92. Records show the department made some headway in 2016-17, as the number of incidents fell to 70. But last year, use of restraints more than doubled to 153. … On top of that, students today are coming to school with greater needs, she said, and the salaries for those jobs aren’t drawing applicants. … Compared to other Florida districts, Hernando falls in the middle for how frequently students are restrained, state records show. Even in Clay County, which shares Hernando’s size ranking and is where Zieschang moved her son, numbers have fluctuated. In the 2016-17 school year, incidents of restraint there more than doubled Hernando’s, totaling 177, records show…. Cooper said some students’ disabilities prevent them from coping with stress in a healthy way, which can result in an outburst. … For years, Dofka has recommended that all teachers of special-needs students undergo training by the Crisis Prevention Institute, which teaches de-escalation methods and certifies trainees to perform restraints. Only 163 district employees have received the training, she said, and the majority are administrators. All principals are trained. …

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