In recent years, Washington has required school districts to submit data on how many times students are physically restrained or isolated by staff, and the issue has gotten more scrutiny around the country.
School district officials were scheduled to hold an information session with families on the evening of Jan. 13, to explain what kind of training school staff receive to help students calm down when they're in an emotional crisis or lashing out. The event was canceled Monday morning due to weather. The district also planned to explain more about how and when students are physically restrained.
The district is working to reschedule the meeting, a district spokesman said in a statement, but no details were immediately available.
Seattle Public Schools had more than 600 incidents of students being physically restrained and more than 100 incidents of students being isolated in the 2017-2018 school year. Isolation refers to “restricting the student alone within a room or any other form of enclosure, from which the student may not leave,” according to district procedure. The number of students who were physically restrained or isolated in 2017-2018 was much smaller because some had repeat incidents.
District policy says that the “the least amount of restraint, isolation, and other uses of physical intervention needed, as defined in the accompanying procedure, may be used when necessary to prevent or minimize imminent bodily injury to self, others, or to protect property, if de-escalation interventions have failed or are inappropriate.”
School Board Director Brandon Hersey said at last week’s school board meeting that he and community members requested that the district hold the information session.
“This is stemming from an incident that took place at one of our middle schools earlier in the year and we, in conjunction with community partners, thought it would be a good idea to have a meeting for folks to come and learn about what are the techniques and the strategies we use to de-escalate situations,” Hersey said.
Erin Romanuk is student support services supervisor in the area of discipline and behavior for Seattle Public Schools. She said as far as she knows, the district has not held a session for parents on this topic in recent years, but she thought it was a good idea. Seattle Public Schools uses a training program called Crisis Prevention Institute.
“I’m very proud of what we do and what the training is, and I think the end result gets us to better outcomes for students – more kids in class, creating safer environments,” Romanuk said. “So I would love to be able to get that out there to the community.”
Romanuk said about 500 employees receive the full two-day training in de-escalation and physical restraint every year. It’s required for safety and security personnel and voluntary for other employees, including teachers and counselors. The district also offers separate shorter modules, for example, on de-escalation techniques, which entire schools have had their staff attend.
She said a large part of the training program focuses on how staff control their own reactions to challenging behavior from students.
“I think of it as our adult social-emotional skills that we have, and it’s – how do I then regulate myself before I respond potentially to a situation that might escalate it?” she said. “Because we have huge ability to influence outcomes in our buildings as staff and we can set that tone and welcoming environment, and this is a vehicle to get us there.”
Benjamin Coulter is an emergency management specialist with the school district's safety and security department and a CPI instructor. The district's training emphasizes finding ways to let students release their emotions and keep themselves and others safe, he said. For example, if a student is disruptive and did something such as turning over a desk, the aim is to separate the student from others and avoid physical contact as much as possible.
“Sometimes you can say, `Hey, come on, walk with me. Come on, step outside,’” he said. “Sometimes they’ll do it. If we can get them to do that, great. And they can yell in the hallway or come and yell in the office – that’s wonderful.”
Physical restraint is a last resort and includes specific techniques. Coulter said CPI training focuses on managing or restricting a student’s movement by controlling his or her arms or shoulders and avoiding the chest and neck area.