Topeka Parents of students with severe behavioral disorders offered graphic accounts Tuesday of cases when their children were subjected to harsh physical restraints or lengthy isolation to control their outbursts, and they urged the Kansas State Board of Education to adopt stricter regulations than the ones being proposed.
Kelsyn Rooks Sr., whose autistic son attends school in the Blue Valley school district in Johnson County, told a hearing held by the board that his son had been carried by his arms and legs spread-eagle through the hallways and, in one case, was pinned naked to the ground while one staff member kneeled on top of him to hold him down and another stood above “screaming at him and berating him.”
Rooks, along with other parents and several disability advocacy groups, urged the state board to put stricter regulations in place, including a provision that gives the Kansas Department of Education a direct role in enforcing those regulations.
“These (proposed) regulations are far weaker than laws in several other states,” said Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.
But officials with the Department of Education said that even though the proposed regulations do not specifically spell out an enforcement role for the state, families would still have the right to appeal grievances to the state through due process and formal complaint procedures already in place.
As currently drafted, the proposed regulations would prohibit school officials from using seclusion or certain kinds of physical restraint unless a student presents “an immediate danger to self or others.”
In addition, every district would be required to adopt written policies that conform to the regulations, including requirements for training for the use of “emergency safety interventions,” and a procedure that would allow parents to file written complaints with the local board of education.
Amy Allison, executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City, argued that having local boards hear complaints would create a conflict of interest because those boards would be inclined to support their own staff to avoid being sued.
But Jana Bradfield, an assistant director of special education programs in the state department, said putting the local board in charge would be appropriate because it would have authority to make personnel decisions.
Department officials will present formal responses today to comments made during Tuesday’s public hearing. At that point, the state board will decide whether to adopt the proposed regulations as written, to make minor changes to the document, or send them back to the staff for major revisions.
In other business, the state board:
• Heard a report by Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker that the department will work with the Kansas Highway Patrol to offer “active shooter training” programs for superintendents and other school officials. That term refers to dealing with “anybody who has the intent of killing lots of people at one time,” DeBacker said, whether it is with a gun, bomb or any other weapon. Details of the training program are still being developed.
• Approved changes to state accreditation standards that mirror the state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. The changes mean schools will not have to meet targets for “adequate yearly progress” on reading and math tests to be accredited. Instead, they will have to meet the new standards that measure school performance across four “annual measurable objectives” that will be developed individually for each school.