The federal definition of seclusion is “the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. It does not include a timeout,[emphasis added] which is a behavior management technique that is part of an approved program, involves the monitored separation of the student in a non-locked setting, and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”
Maryland regulations provides that “the use of seclusion is prohibited in public agencies and nonpublic schools until there is an emergency situation and seclusion is necessary to protect a student or other person from imminent, serious, physical harm after other less intrusive, nonphysical interventions have failed or been determined inappropriate.”
We have previously reported on what guidance the State has provided school districts regarding the meaning of “imminent, serious, physical harm.” On January 14th, 2014, the Maryland State Department of Education – Division of Special Education / Early Intervention Services issued the “The Use of Restraint and Seclusion” Fact Sheet to help guide Maryland schools with policy development. This guidance document emphasizes the “imminent, serious, physical harm” standard for the practice of restraint or seclusion, and it further defines exactly what is required before a school can act to restrain or seclude a child; namely: a substantial risk of death; extreme physical pain; protracted and obvious disfigurement; or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty. In so many words, there must be immediate risk to life and limb. (note: a lesser standard can be practiced with parental consent and with inclusion in the child’s IEP/BIP; otherwise, the standard stands.)
Our investigation and recent reporting has revealed a Calvert County policy on the practice of seclusion that does not align with Maryland regulations; it does not require the “imminent, serious, physical harm” standard. We cited a number of examples of special education children being subjected to seclusion and restraint for reported behaviors that do not seem to rise to the risk of imminent, serious, physical harm. It appears that Calvert’s policy first diverged from the requirements of Maryland regulations in 2011.
The Superintendent of Calvert County Public Schools, Dr. Daniel Curry, stated that he did not become aware of this issue until our recent reporting on the matter. Dr. Curry also noted that he arrived at his position in Calvert County in 2014, and whoever was responsible for authoring the 2011 policy is no longer in the same employment capacity.
Nonetheless, we have received a number of documents showing that parents of special education students in Calvert County Public Schools have raised concerns about the County’s practice since as early as 2016, two years after Dr. Curry took office. Dr. Curry reported that when he began his job in Calvert County in 2014, he had to ask about the purpose of the seclusion rooms, because he had previously worked in school districts that did not have any such rooms.
While Waller Squared Media Productions awaits receipt of additional documents from Calvert County & the State Department of Education, and in advance of our next article, we share you with a few excerpts from the many correspondence to and from a concerned parent and local and State school administration. To protect the child’s privacy, his name has been changed in the emails to “John Doe.”
2016: Email excerpt, sent from the parent of a special needs elementary student in the Calvert County Public Schools to an employee of the Maryland Department of Education’s Special Education and Early Intervention Services Division. Note the parent’s question about Calvert’s determination of imminent harm:
“I have inquired about the specific criteria they [Calvert County Public Schools] use in regards to determining if John Doe 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.”
2016: Email excerpt, sent from the parent of a special needs elementary student in Calvert County Public Schools to the school system’s supervisor of Special Education:
“As you may or may not be aware – after multiple notifications both written and verbal to Calvert Country that I DO NOT consent for John Doe being placed in Seclusion or Restraint – they continue to do so on what has increased to multiple times on a daily basis. So I asked that the school call to notify me WHEN they decide to do so – however, they refuse and constantly site that COMAR [Maryland regulations] says they do not need parental consent and that they are “too short staffed” to immediately notify me – of what is classified by COMAR as an emergency situation – and that COMAR says they have 24 hours to notify me.”
2016: Email excerpt, sent from the principal of a Calvert County Public School to the parent of a special education student. This email was sent in reply to the parent informing the school that she did not consent to her child being placed in seclusion. Note that the principal’s claim to the parent, of what is provided in COMAR, was not complete and accurate:
“In accordance with Section 13A.08.04.05B of the Education Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, seclusionary time out is utilized in an emergency situation in which it is necessary to protect a student or other students. Restraint, transport, and seclusionary time-out are only used as a last resort and until the student can regain control of his or her own behavior.”
2016: Email excerpt, sent from the principal of a Calvert County Public School to the parent of a special education student. The parent had notified the school that they did not give permission for the child to be secluded. Note that the principal informed the parent that seclusion is required to “eliminate or reduce any chance of injury”, which is again a diversion from COMAR regulations:
“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. In these types of situations, parental permission is not required.”
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