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 Restraint & Seclusion(Dark Corridor)

By Janine Zeitlin • jzeitlin@news-press.com • October 27, 2009 

1:10 A.M. — Florida parents behind a renewed push to prevent seclusion and restraint in classrooms are buoyed by a federal report that raises concerns about potentially deadly misuse.

The Government Accountability Office discovered hundreds of alleged abuse and death cases related to restraint and seclusion of school children in two decades but no entity collecting that information.

The GAO examined 10 cases with convictions, settlements or liability findings that included:

• An untrained aide who gagged and duct-taped five Florida children;

• A Tennessee teacher who strapped a child with a Down syndrome-type condition to a cot;

• A 230-pound Texas teacher got on top of a student and caused his death.

Parents are hopeful the report will fuel their campaign to pass a bill recently filed in
Florida to restrict seclusion and restraint of disabled children.

It will be pitched to lawmakers for the third time and was referred to education and health care committees this month. Rep. Dorothy Hukill, a Volusia County Republican who sponsored the bill, hopes it will be heard by January.

“It’s not just me and a group of parents talking about it anymore,” said Phyllis Musumeci, founder of Florida Families Against Restraint and Seclusion. “It’s gotten all the way up to Washington.”

Musumeci said her 17-year-old son with autism, was restrained more than 89 times without her knowledge in Palm Beach schools in 2005. He was later diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

The federal inquiry found restraint and seclusion are largely unregulated. There are no federal laws, and Florida was among 19 states that had no regulations. After the report, federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked all states to review and potentially revise and develop guidelines.

In response, a Florida Department of Education liaison, John Lockwood, pointed to the bill and other efforts that may lift Florida from the zero regulation column.

The bill requires that schools notify parents each time restraint is used, bars manual physical restraint by those not certified to use district methods and prohibits restraints including ones in which a child would be lying face down.

Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County, had concerns about the bill, saying that teachers of children with disabilities are already highly trained.

The legislation could potentially leave teachers vulnerable to its interpretation, he said.

“Much of what’s in there is already what’s done,” Castellano said.

Joe Donzelli, Lee schools spokesman, said staff is instructed to use positive behavior and verbal methods before resorting to restraint, the last option.

The bill says seclusion should never be used and places conditions on a time-out. Donzelli said some schools have seclusion areas and some don’t.

“People like to sensationalize, but it’s not a room where we lock the door and throw away a key.”

The federal report ferreted out themes in the 10 cases it examined: affected children included those with disabilities who were not physically aggressive, parents who did not consent to restraints and untrained staff.

Donzelli noted that identified staff receive training from the Crisis Prevention Institute, which promotes safe methods and restraint that doesn’t involve pain as a last resort.

He could not provide a number of how many people had the training, adding that officials would decide who receives it.

The institute backs the Florida proposal, and its instructors have worked with those crafting it, said Simon Kemp, its executive director for international development.

“Unfortunately, it’s the teeth that the legislation provides for best practice being an aspiration as opposed to best practice being an implementation.”

Kemp said no restraint is entirely safe. “Just the process of laying hands on somebody carries a risk with it.”

Julie Marchetti, an Estero resident enmeshed in an federal case with the district involving her 12-year-old son, who has a learning disability, said the bill is crucial.

“It sounds the alarm that restraint and seclusion should only be used in the rarest of circumstances, and they need to be very careful about what they’re doing,” Marchetti said.

Marchetti believes her son was restrained at school after he returned home in 2005 with large bruises. A report from the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida, which works with children to determine if they have been abused, found the marks were consistent with physical abuse.

“It puts the school system on notice that there is a standard, and they can’t self-monitor,” she said.

Mary Beth Pringle, a Cape Coral parent of 12 children, including 9 she adopted with special needs, would like to see teachers receive more support as opposed to passing a law.

“My only concern about anything like that is that it always seems that the pendulum goes so far that there’s no common sense,” she said. “If the teacher in the classroom had the correct support, a lot of this would be eliminated.”

Hukill, the Volusia County legislator who sponsored the bill, is banking on increased awareness easing the bill’s passage.

“When people become aware about something, they’re more likely to act.”

Source:   http://www.news-press.com/article/20091027/NEWS0104/91026093/1075

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