The Kansas State Board of Education voted Wednesday to adopt regulations on the use of harsh "seclusion and restraint" methods of controlling students with severe behavioral disorders.
The vote came over the objection of some children's rights advocates who said the new rules would be ineffective because they leave local school boards, rather than the Kansas State Department of Education, in charge of enforcement if parents lodge complaints that the regulations are not being followed.
The board voted 9-1 to approve the regulations. Freshman board member Steve Roberts, an Overland Park Republican, voted no.
Advocates also objected that the regulations provide no appeals process for parents who are not satisfied with decisions of the local school boards.
The state board members noted those objections but said adding new enforcement provisions to the draft rules would have required starting the entire rulemaking process over again, and that would have taken another six to eight months. Instead, the board adopted the draft rules as written, with instructions to agency staff to begin drafting another set of regulations establishing an appeal process.
Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the board and agency staff would follow through on that promise. But he noted that he and other advocates have been pushing for years to the agency to adopt stricter regulations and they have always met with resistance from staff at the agency.
"We've played Charlie Brown to their Lucy for a long time," Nichols said after the meeting.
Nichols noted that the state board first considered adopting formal regulations in 2007, but ultimately decided to adopt informal guidelines that have been in place since that time.
Last year, Nichols and other advocates complained that local districts were refusing to follow those guidelines, and so they proposed legislation that would have imposed stricter standards on the use of physical isolation and restraint.
That bill passed the House and was being considered in the Senate. But Department of Education officials convinced the Senate Education Committee to delay action while giving the agency time to address the issue through rules and regulations, a process that culminated in Wednesday's action.
Officials with the department argued there was no need to add a formal appeals process to the rules, noting that if parents were not satisfied with decisions by their local boards they could always file complaints through local prosecutors or the Attorney General's office.
Colleen Riley, director of special education programs, also said she tries to work informally to resolve disputes between parents and local districts.
"There are times when things are not written black and white in rules and regulations," she said. "We try to work with the (special education) co-op and the local district to see how we can resolve the situation."
But several board members agreed with Nichols that there needed to be a more formal process.
"We need to be the intermediary between the school district and the courts," said board member Deena Horst, a Salina Republican. "If we refer to (the Department of) Children and Families or the attorney general, it looks like we're washing our hands here. It looks mushy on our part."