On December 1, 2018 the Maryland State Department of Education published a report titled “Restraint and Seclusion Data Collection, Findings, and Recommendations.” This report shows the number of restraint incidents and the number of seclusion incidents reported in each Maryland county during the 2017-2018 school year. Calvert County reported 701 incidents of seclusion and 576 incidents of restraint for the school year. Though only 14th in size in terms of total school enrollment, Calvert County was first in its percentage of seclusion incidents and second for restraint incidents in the State. Waller Squared Media Productions has previously published a series of articles addressing this issue in Calvert County Public Schools.
“In light of the recent articles on your blog, the Maryland State Department of Education’s] Division of Early Intervention/Special Education Services conducted an on-site visit [of Calvert County Public Schools] earlier this week“, wrote William Reinhard, the Director of Communications at the Maryland State Dept. of Education. In an email to Waller Squared Media Productions, Rinehard added “MSDE’s visit this week included a tour of the referenced school and the rooms identified as well as a review of the system’s behavior policies, including written and documented restraint and seclusion practices.”
In light of the recent articles on your blog, the Maryland State Department of Education’s] Division of Early Intervention/Special Education Services conducted an on-site visit [of Calvert County Public Schools] earlier this weekWilliam Reinhard, the Director of Communications at the Maryland State Dept. of Education.
For one parent and child in Calvert County, MSDE’s response may be too little, too late. The parent, who has agreed to be identified publically by the initials “NC”, contacted Waller Squared Media Productions shortly after our first article in this series was published. “NC” wishes to remain anonymous out of a desire to maintain privacy for her son. “NC” subsequently provided us with a series of documents detailing the issues her son faced while in the Calvert County Public School’s Special Education program. In this article, “NC’s” son will be referred to simply as the child.
The child has been diagnosed with autism and a number of emotional and developmental challenges. “NC” contends that the use of restraint and seclusion was included in the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), even though she opposed the provision. “NC” also claimed that a Calvert County Public School Behavior Specialist told her that restraint and seclusion would be practiced whenever the school deemed the child was “a danger”, and that it could never be removed from his IEP.
“NC” grew concerned over the frequency of restraint and seclusion being practiced on her son in school. She voiced her concern to the then principal of the school. In a March 22, 2016 letter to “NC”, the Calvert Country School principal offered the following explanation as to the justification for the use of restraint and seclusion: “When it is necessary to protect a student or another person and less intrusive interventions have not been effective, staff are required to respond immediately to the situation in order to eliminate or reduce any chance of injury to the student or other students or staff [emphasis added.]” The principal further explained that school staff utilize Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) “safe, non-harmful restraint and transport positions.” (NOTE: Our previous reporting addressed the standard of imminent, serious physical harm required for the practice of seclusion and restraint. This standard is not the same as “reduce any chance of injury” as cited by the principal in the letter to “NC”)
“NC” subsequently telephoned and emailed Marjorie Shulbank of the Maryland State Department of Education for help and guidance. In a March 2016 email to Ms. Shulbank, “NC” wrote: “I have inquired about the specific criteria they use in regards to determining if the child is an imminent harm to himself or others, which they use to determine appropriateness of the use of restraint and or seclusion. I have not been provided with any information other than COMAR constantly being repeatedly cited.” “NC” provided Ms. Shulbank with the letter she received from the Calvert Country School principal, in which the principal describes a standard different than that which is required by Maryland regulations.
“NC” also provided Waller Squared with the written response she received from the school when she requested that the staff stop practicing seclusion on her son. (NOTE: In it’s response, the school refers to the practice of seclusion as “CPI”. CPI is short for Crisis Prevention Institute, the organization that certified the Calvert County Public School staff in Non-violent Crisis Intervention). In the May 2016 document, the school wrote “The IEP team would not agree to not using CPI because schools are required to use CPI when a student is at danger of injuring themselves or others.” (NOTE: This is again a different standard being cited by CCPS than the imminent, serious physical harm standard prescribed in COMAR and MSDE guidance documents.)
The IEP team would not agree to not using CPI because schools are required to use CPI when a student is at danger of injuring themselves or othersCalvert Country School IEP team
The documents “NC” provided Waller Squared show that the child was continually restrained and transported to the seclusion room on numerous occasions. At six-years-old, he was restrained and secluded for “playing with light switches” in a hallway and because he “began to knock over chairs.” He was again physically restrained and transported to the seclusion room for not cleaning up after himself when break time ended. The teacher’s written report indicates that a one minute timer was set when the child was told to clean up the toys. After one minute, when the child began to throw toy blocks around the classroom, he was restrained and then secluded, for a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes.
“NC” continued to try to work with Calvert County Public School (CCPS) staff to address the frequency of seclusion the child endured. In an April of 2017 email to Christina Harris (CCPS Special Education Director), “NC” wrote: “As you may or may not be aware – after multiple notifications both written and verbal to Calvert Country that I DO NOT consent for the child being placed in Seclusion or Restraint – they continue to do so on what has increased to multiple times on a daily basis.”
As you may or may not be aware – after multiple notifications both written and verbal to Calvert Country that I DO NOT consent for “child G” being placed in Seclusion or Restraint – they continue to do so on what has increased to multiple times on a daily basis.”Letter from parent “NC” to the CCPS Director of Special Education
In December of 2017, the child’s Individual Education Plan was updated. The plan provided the following: “’The child continues to require a Behavior Intervention plan that addresses behaviors that interfere with his and other student’s ability to access the curriculum.” The plan also noted, “If the child poses a potential danger to himself of others, CPI certified staff may use Nonviolent Physical Crisis Intervention (NPCI) and/or seclusionary time out.”
Ultimately, “NC” removed the child from Calvert County Public Schools because of what she perceived as an overuse of restraint and seclusion.
In Maryland, there are presently two different standards for when seclusion or restraint can be practiced on a student. In our previous reporting on the issue, we focused on the provisions in COMAR which dictate that restraint and seclusion can only be practiced to protect a student or other person from imminent, serious, physical harm [emphasis added]. This standard does not apply once seclusion or restraint is included in a child’s IEP. Once in the IEP, seclusion and restraint are no longer reserved for acts that pose a risk of serious bodily harm, so the practices may then be used to address lesser behaviors; nonetheless, the State regulations establish certain requirements.
Among those requirements, the IEP must identify the specific behaviors for which seclusion or restraint is permitted to be practiced. On November 26, 2013, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services (DSE/EIS), completed an investigation of a complaint regarding special education services in Frederick County. The complaint involved a student who had seclusion and restraint included in his IEP. (Case #14-026). In that case, MSDE found that Frederick County violated State regulations in its practice. The investigative report reads, “The IEP and BIP in effect since August 15, 2013 state that ‘crisis intervention’ services are to be used when the student ‘becomes a danger to himself or others,’ including the ‘use of exclusion, seclusion, and physical restraint.’ While the document states that the interventions will be used when the student becomes a danger to himself or others, it does not describe the specific behaviors or circumstances which would constitute such a danger.”
The provision of seclusion and restraint in “NC’s” child’s IEP is remarkably similar to that of the child who was the subject of the complaint in Frederick County. It read, “If the child poses a potential danger to himself or others, CPI certified staff may use Nonviolent Physical Crisis Intervention (NPCI) and/or seclusionary time out.” It too did not describe the specific behaviors or circumstances which would constitute such a danger. Though for over a year “NC” attempted to address this very issue with the child’s IEP team, the CCPS Behavior Specialist, the Calvert Country School principal, the CCPS Director of Special Education and a representative of the Maryland State Department of Education, she received no relief and the child was continually restrained and secluded.
This particular issue, however, was not lost on the Maryland State Task Force on Restraint & Seclusion. The 2017 report of the Task Force provided the following: “The most significant recommendation of the Task Force involves the circumstances in which restraint and seclusion shall be prohibited. There was agreement that restraint and seclusion are crisis-oriented responses, but also concern that such responses may be used in lieu of less intrusive interventions once added to a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or individualized education program (IEP). To avoid that result in the BIP or IEP, the Task Force recommends revising the regulation so that physical restraint and seclusion are prohibited in public agencies and nonpublic schools unless there is an emergency situation and such responses are necessary to protect a student or other person from imminent, serious, physical harm after less intrusive interventions have failed or been determined inappropriate.“
There was agreement that restraint and seclusion are crisis-oriented responses, but also concern that such responses may be used in lieu of less intrusive interventions once added to a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or individualized education program (IEP)Maryland State Task Force on Restraint & Seclusion 2017 Report
On September 19, 2017, the Task Force was poised to present this recommendation to the Maryland State Board of Education; however, State Superintendent Karen Salmon had a different idea. According to the meeting minutes, “Before introducing the presenters, State Superintendent Salmon expressed her appreciation to the Task Force for their work. She also (sic) that she does not agree with all of the recommendations outlined in the report and expressed specific concerns about removing anything from a students Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is prescriptive, based on her experiences and observations as an educator. Dr. Salmon emphasized the need for further discussion before any final actions are taken on the committee’s recommendation(s).” The Board ultimately did not adopt the Task Force recommendations that Dr. Salmon opposed.
Waller Squared Media Productions requested a comment from Superintendent Salmon on this issue; however, we received no response to our request for comment. We also have been unable to determine what action, if any, the Maryland State Department of Education took in 2016, when “NC” brought this very issue to the attention of MSDE employee Marjorie Shulbank. We are attempting to quantify the number of students in the CCPS Special Education program who may have been subjected to the misapplication of seclusion and restraint practices since this issue was brought to the attention of the Maryland State Department of Education in 2016.
In January of this year U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education will launch an initiative to address the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in our nation’s schools. Waller Squared has reached out to the U.S. Department of Education – Office of Civil Rights for a comment on this issue in Calvert County and the State of Maryland; however, we have not yet received a response to our request for an interview.
Since Calvert County Public Schools, in several of it’s correspondence with “NC”, cited the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) to justify the practice of restraint and seclusion, we contacted CPI for comment.
Marvin Mason, Chief Customer Officer at CPI, wrote in an email to Waller Squared Media Productions, “CPI does not promote or endorse the use of seclusion rooms in schools, because the lasting psycho social/emotional impact it has on children can be profound. In fact, CPI has helped fund lobbying efforts for legislation in Florida to ban the practice of seclusion rooms in Florida schools.”
“CPI does not promote or endorse the use of seclusion rooms in schools, because the lasting psycho social/emotional impact it has on children can be profound. In fact, CPI has helped fund lobbying efforts for legislation in Florida to ban the practice of seclusion rooms in Florida schools.”Marvin Mason, Chief Customer Officer at Crisis Prevention Institute
Mason also provide several CPI position statement documents pertaining to seclusion and restraint. Among other things, the documents noted “CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program utilizes the standard of last resort as the only appropriate time to use restraint or seclusion. Last resort comes about when the student’s behavior creates imminent danger to self or others, and the danger of the behavior outweighs the risks associated with using restraint and seclusion. Because the risks associated with restraint and seclusion use are so great, any episode of restraint or seclusion should be ended at the earliest possible moment when the student is no longer an imminent danger to self or others. The student may still be upset or noncompliant, but if the student is no longer dangerous, the restraint/seclusion should end. Restraint should be used to protect, not to punish, and should never be used for staff convenience.”
The Crisis Prevention Institute’s description of restraint is not one of a risk-free practice. It is not consistent with the description that the Calvert Country School principal provided in the letter to “NC”; namely, “safe, non-harmful restraint and transport positions.” In fact, CPI’s guidance documentation instructs personnel to consider the following risks associated with the practice of restraint:
- Psychosocial Injury, including posttraumatic stress disorder and damage to therapeutic relationships.
- Soft-Tissue Injury, including injury to skin, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
- Articular or Bony Injury, including injury to joints and bones.
- Respiratory Restriction, including compromise to airway, bellows mechanism, and gaseous exchange, which results in respiratory crisis or failure.
- Cardiovascular Compromise, including compromise to the heart and the peripheral vascular system.
We asked CCPS Superintendent Daniel Curry to comment on the issues “NC” faced in working with school personnel, as well as the information we received from CPI. Dr. Curry declined to comment, but did note that the principal who sent “NC” the letter is no longer employed in the school system. We received a similar response from Dr. Curry when we questioned why CCPS written policy on the practice of seclusion had changed over the years, becoming seemingly less restrictive. Dr. Curry noted that the people responsible for those policy changes are no longer employed with CCPS.
Dr. Curry previously told us that he questioned what the seclusion rooms were for when he first started employment in Calvert County, because he previously worked in school districts that didn’t have any sort of seclusion room. We have requested twice that Dr. Curry provide a response to the following question: “When you learned of them [the seclusion rooms], given the seriousness of the issues surrounding there use, what leadership did you provide in managing the practice?” Dr. Curry has yet to respond to this question.
Dawn Balinski, President of the Calvert County Board of Education, offered the following statement: “The usage of restraint and seclusion is under investigation in our school system with the intent to reduce and, where possible, to eliminate the practice. The Superintendent has convened a committee of involved stakeholders to develop recommendations to Board of Education policy and to shape changes to CCPS procedures related to restraint and seclusion. The Board of Education welcomes all public input as we work through this issue.”
The usage of restraint and seclusion is under investigation in our school system with the intent to reduce and, where possible, to eliminate the practice. The Superintendent has convened a committee of involved stakeholders to develop recommendations to Board of Education policy and to shape changes to CCPS procedures related to restraint and seclusion. The Board of Education welcomes all public input as we work through this issue.Dawn Balinski, President of the Calvert County Board of Education
Our investigative reporting on this issue will continue. We have interviewed other parents, representatives of the Calvert Educators Association and other individuals with information to contribute to this story. We have also received a number of additional documents. All of the information garnered will be the subject of our next article.
About the author: Brian Waller is a retired police administrator, crisis intervention & Mental Health First Aid instructor, and criminal investigator, – now turned public interest journalist. He manages Waller Squared Media Productions, LLC and may be reached at Brian@WallerSquaredMedia.com