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No State Oversight of School Restraint Policies

Megan Lynch
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 JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) – Remember the stories two years ago of Florida students bound and gagged with duct tape by their teacher, or the nine-year-old New York student repeatedly locked in a small, dirty room, and then there’s the 14-year-old Texas boy who died after a special education teacher pinned him to the floor.

As of this month, all public schools in Missouri are supposed to have a policy on how and when they can restrain or isolate a student.

But as KMOX News learned, there’s no one checking to make sure.

“I don’t think anyone’s checking.  I think it’s one of those statutes that there’s an obligation put out there but there’s no ‘police’ agency,” says Legal Counsel for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Special Education Office, Cynthia Quetsch.

In 2009, state lawmakers required the department draft guidelines for handling students in emergency situations, but the mandate didn’t give the agency any power to oversee districts.

Under DESE’s model policy any physical restraint or isolation should be the last resort.  “I think those of us working on the plan envisioned someone who was a danger to themselves or others,” explains Quetsch.

“Isolation should only be used in an emergency situation and only with parental approval and only after you’ve tried to de-escalate everything else,” adds Quetsch.   She says “de-escalation” involves talking a kid down, diverting their attention or calming them down in other ways without having to seclude them or touch them.

Quetsch says the state recommends teachers have yearly training, but once again, whether districts do is up to them and there’s no state enforcement authority.  “I suspect that it varies from district to district.  I’m sure there are many districts where teachers are very well trained and there are probably some districts where training was a couple of years ago and a new teacher hasn’t had that training.”

Click here for a link to the state’s model policy

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