KHQ Investigates: Parents concerned with school discipline pract - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

KHQ Investigates: Parents concerned with school discipline practices

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

Erin Carden was rushing to her son’s school to prevent what she knew her 15-year-old was capable of doing.

“When I arrived he was face down in the foyer hitting his head against the cement over, and over, and over,” said Carden. “He was screaming that he wanted to kill himself.”

The chilling account happened after Carden’s son, who is autistic, was restrained for acting up in class.

“They had to drag him because he was being so combative,” said Carden. “The resource officer used a pressure hold on him to subdue him. He swung at the officer and hit her neck.”

As Carden shared this story with fellow parents, teachers, and board members at the Spokane Public Schools board meeting, she stood by herself.

But she is not alone.

Many parents at SPS are worried about controversial discipline practices at school called restraint and isolation.

Isolation means secluding a student to a room until they calm down, while restraint happens when a school staff member (usually a School Resource Officer) has to physically intervene to control the student. This practice usually means teachers or SROs have to place children in arm locks or hold them on the ground, and the state wants it to stop.

Spokane County Public Defender, Megan Manlove, says restraint and isolation often escalates an already unstable situation.

“The teacher told him [student] to get out of the desk and he refused,” said Manlove. “Eventually an SRO was called in and that child was yanked out of a desk and his head was actually slammed onto a table.”

Manlove handles juvenile cases and says she sees cases like this come across her desk all the time.

“Whether the schools are actually following that law and implementing those policies is really questionable based on what I see come across me desk,” said Manlove.

The law Manlove is talking about is SHB 1240. It passed in 2015 and was implemented at the start of the last school semester with a goal aimed at ending the use of isolation and restraint in schools.

The law states: “The legislation finds that there is no educational or therapeutic benefit to children from physically restraining or isolating them as part of their public school programs when no necessary for immediate safety.”

The law requires school districts to change their policies so staff cannot use restraint or isolation unless a “student’s behavior poses and imminent likelihood of serious harm to that student or another person.”

SPS has changed its policy, but numbers acquired through a public information request shows the district is using restraint and isolation more than any other in the state.

Data shows that SPS used isolation and restraint 3,515 times in the 2014-15 school year. To compare, the Central Valley School District used restraint and isolation 331 times that same school year, and the Tacoma School District used it 436 times the year before.

During the 2014-15 school year, the West Valley and Mead School Districts used restraint and isolation less than 100 times. There was no data available for the East Valley School District.

Starting January 1, 2016, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction requires that all school districts report the use of restraint and isolation at the end of each school year.

SPS has scheduled training for School Resource Officers starting on August 17. The district has not said if the use of restraint and isolation will be included in that training, however they will be learning and reviewing how to recognize and respond to youth with mental health issues.

SPS has the most special needs students in the state of Washington, but attorneys and parents are concerned that school staff are using restraint and isolation beyond what it’s intended for.

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