Board of Education reviews 'time-out room' policies

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Jan. 26, 2012
Board of Education member Amarjit Buttar said he was glad to learn that the policies are updated. Photos by Steve Smith.
Board of Education member Amarjit Buttar said he was glad to learn that the policies are updated. Photos by Steve Smith.

In light of some attention other school districts are receiving for timeout or quiet rooms - sometimes referred to as “scream rooms” - the Vernon Board of Education received an update on the status of the district’s restraint and seclusion policy and its usage from Director of Pupil Personnel Services Patricia Buell, at its meeting on Jan. 23.

“It’s caused quite a bit of furor around the state,” said Superintendent Mary Conway. “There is a law about restraint and seclusion, and all kinds of procedures and protocols that we need to follow when we do restrain or seclude a student.”

Buell said the law mandates what can and can’t be done, and part of her job is to make sure that administrators are up-to-date on any changes in the law, and the policies are reviewed annually. Her office also created a reporting document before the state mandated them.

Buell explained that some students use the spaces to “cool down” or support self-regulation, and explained that a student becoming “dis-regulated” is a common human condition. “I become dis-regluated when I’m in traffic,” she said, providing an example, “and I have to do things that calm me down. There are times when we all can become dis-regulated, and we all have strategies in support of self-regulation. If I was unable to regulate myself, I might need support from people around me or to be by myself to become regulated again.”

Procedures, Buell said, include a three-page form that must be filled out when a student is secluded or restrained.

“There are times when students are secluded involuntarily,” she said, “due to their behaviors becoming disruptive or aggressive. Although the use of de-escalation strategies are taught and implemented, there are some times when students aren’t able to de-escalate before they become aggressive or dangerous to others. In these cases, trained staff supports students and keeps them safe, while helping them to regain their self-control and process the issue and developing strategies to avoid this type of action or reaction in the future.”

Buell added that each student’s case is documented, and assessed to plan future behavioral support strategies, along with the family and school staff.

Also included in the policy are conditions that in all cases, two staff members must monitor the students in restraint or seclusion, parents must be informed, and principals must sign off on the incident. Forms are also mailed to students’ homes and maintained by Buell’s office. School nurses also check on the students after their restraint.

While the state requires the documentation of any student with a disability who is restrained or secluded, Vernon schools require the documentation of all students. In Vernon schools, the spaces are best-known as “cool down rooms,” “take space rooms,” or “reflection rooms,” among other monikers. Buell said that students are encouraged to use the rooms for appropriate self-regulation strategies, and some students also use the rooms to simply gain focus, or to perform other exercises used to help them be more able to learn.

“They’re not ready, they need to focus, so they need to do something to get them ready,” she said. “They might go in and do some heavy lifting or some jump-roping. Some students might need a quiet, ‘de-pressure’ place. These [rooms] are not just used for one purpose.”

Board member Amarjit Buttar said he was relieved to learn of the system that is in place. “At least we do have programs for those, who for whatever reason - no fault of theirs - have gone astray,” Buttar said.

Buttar’s sentiments represented, in general, those of the rest of the board members. William Nicholson said he would like for the board to have more-detailed documentation of each incident of restraint or seclusion in the future, as well as the nature of any injuries.

Board member Michele Arn said she was pleased with the program’s concern for better educational habits, but asked what considerations are given to students who are trying to learn and teachers who are trying to teach, over the students who are not able to control their outbursts.

Buell said the seclusion and restraint is actually an ongoing continuum of support to the students who need it, and since each student is different, the level of participation in a regular classroom setting is considered on an individual basis. “We continue down the road to arrive at the appropriate level of support for each student,” she said. “So, yes, we do consider all the students’ situations.”

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