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Montcalm Cty, MI: Disabled students in seclusion over 4,000 times in 5 yrs.

Oct 13, 2022, Detroit Free Press: Small school district in Michigan's Montcalm County isolated kids 4,000 times in 5 years


A small school district in central Michigan isolated children with disabilities in rooms more than 4,000 times over the last five school years — the most by far of any Michigan school district — and administrators will not reveal why.

Instead, leaders of Montcalm Area Intermediate School District say their treatment of some of the most vulnerable children is necessary and their high numbers could be attributable to record-keeping that is “beyond reproach.”

Intermediate school districts, including Montcalm, offer specialized programs for students with disabilities who reside in their respective counties.

It is unclear why Montcalm, a rural district of about 480 students midway between Grand Rapids and Saginaw, uses seclusion so many more times than other districts that reported to the state.

The district also uses restraint, another tactic that involves adults using force to restrict a child's movement, but educators there used seclusion far more often, the numbers show.

Montcalm in the 2021-2022 school year secluded or restrained 39% of its students with disabilities, a rate that far outpaces other districts in the state. The next highest districts —

Allegan Area Educational Service Agency, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, Van Buren Intermediate School District and Shiawassee Regional Education Service District — secluded or restrained 10% of students with disabilities.

Many districts in Michigan recorded no numbers. Montcalm officials have twice denied a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request from the Free Press for documents that would help explain the district’s actions. …

Out of Michigan’s nearly 900 school districts and charter schools, Montcalm is just one of 11 to use seclusion more than 1,000 times from the 2017-22 academic years. About 160 children with disabilities attend Montcalm programs, according to state data.

The number of times Montcalm used seclusion has increased every school year since 2017, with an exception in 2020-21, when many schools were closed for in-person learning due to the pandemic….

A review of documents from other districts shows educators have used seclusion not just in an emergency, but as punishment for unwanted behavior. Inside the seclusion rooms, students often become more anguished. Some are denied the ability to use the restroom. Others stand at the doors and wail, at times pounding on doors and walls while screaming to be released.

Students often behave erratically in the moments before they are confined to these rooms, throwing furniture or hitting a teacher. But the practice of seclusion is controversial, and many experts say it is unnecessary, inflaming disruptive behavior and impeding learning. Parents of students who have experienced seclusion say their children are traumatized by it.

In Montcalm, while remaining mum on why they’ve used the practice so often, administrators did share their restraint and seclusion policy, which reiterates Michigan law on the practice.

In addition to denying records requests, Montcalm Superintendent Kyle Hamlin and Daniel Brant, associate superintendent of special education, refused to answer questions posed by Detroit Free Press reporters via email, over the phone and in person at a school board meeting about Montcalm’s use of seclusion, citing privacy concerns. The questions did not ask about specific students….

“That could be as simple as having a student who is having a bad day who needs to be isolated from others,” he said, according to the newspaper. “It’s generally going to be for the safety of self and safety of others. But in some cases, you might have to restrain a student as well.”…

At a Sept. 15 school board meeting, Board President Steve Foster said he hadn't had parents or educators contact him about any concerns with the district’s use of seclusion or restraint. He said he’d seen a seclusion room, but declined to describe what the room looks like or to answer any additional questions from a Free Press reporter.

“You have to understand that the student population that we serve is different than public schools, other schools, charter schools and so forth,” he said. “We have emotionally impaired (students).” …

Brant said the Montcalm district is particularly concerned with concealing the identities of the children secluded thousands of times.

“In our county, we service some significantly violent students, and because we’re a small ISD … we need to protect their identity,” he said.

The Montcalm Area Intermediate School District has used seclusion practices on its student body more than 4,000 times over the past five school years.CODY SCANLAN/HOLLAND SENTINEL


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