State education board considers restraints for special ed students

Right now in Kansas, there are no statewide guidelines for how teachers and their helpers should handle unruly special education students.

On Tuesday, members of the Disability Rights Center attended the Kansas State Board of Education meeting to hear proposed guidelines for schools to follow when special education students get out of control.

Advocates for the disabled said the mandates are necessary to prevent mistreatment of the students.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center, said during the 2005 legislative session he heard many parents speak about the mistreatment of their children.

“Hundreds and hundreds of parents from around the state came forward, testified and talked about how their kids were secluded and restrained inappropriately,” Nichols said. “We have kids who have been sat on by gym teachers. Their arms have been duct-taped together as a form of restraint. They’ve been rolled up in gym mats. They’ve been placed in little boxes.”

Those are the extreme cases, but members of the Disability Rights Center said they hoped a few guidelines would spell out what is appropriate when it comes to handling special education students with behavior problems.

If a child gets out of control and must be separated from other students, they can be placed in what’s called a seclusion room. The proposal recommends the room be at least 36 square feet.

But board member Carol Rupe expressed concern about the small size. “Thirty-six square feet – that’s about 5-by-7. It’s euphemistic to call it a room. We used to call them time-out boxes,” Rupe said.

Rodney Bieker, who presented the proposal on behalf of the Department of Education, said the committees working on the proposal had to take several factors into account when determining the optimum size for the room.

“If you get a room too big, the child might get a pretty good run in and hurt himself. You get a room too small, and you got a poor little child that’s claustrophobic and can’t even breathe in there,” Bieker said.

Nichols said the proposal was the result of compromise among several groups.

“We’ve had many, many meetings on these with school officials and others. It’s not everything we want. It’s not everything the disability community wants. It’s not everything the public safety community wants. It’s a good compromise, though,” he said.

The proposal also places restrictions on when and how a child can be restrained. Restraint could only be used by trained staff if the child’s actions were putting the child or others in danger.

Supporters of the new guidelines said they hoped the state education board would be prepared to adopt the new policy when it meets in August.