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IDEA Complaint Decision 11-021

On March 30, 2011, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Appleton Area School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, during the 2010-11 school year, utilized improper restraint and seclusion procedures.

In March 2011, the parent visited a district school as a possible placement for her child during the 2011-12 school year. During the visit the parent was shown two seclusion rooms and was concerned the rooms had locks on the door. The department has issued directives for the appropriate use of seclusion and physical restraint in special education programs. The directives state the door serving the seclusion room is an exit access door providing an exit for the room. The door must be able to be opened from inside the room at all times and without the use of a key. Any variation must be approved by local inspectors and/or the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Both seclusion rooms shown to the parent have a mechanism with a push button. When a staff member holds the button in with their thumb, the door is locked. However, as soon as staff releases the button, the door is unlocked and readily opened. In other words, the locking mechanism is not engaged unless a staff member is actively pushing the button. Consistent with the department’s directives, the school district applied for and received a variance for these mechanisms from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Department staff viewed the seclusion rooms and confirmed the mechanisms were in accordance with the variance.

The parent also expressed concern about the district’s practices regarding logging of seclusion and restraint incidents. The department’s directives specify that each use of seclusion or restraint should be documented through a log or incident report. The district logs all incidents of seclusion and restraint, which includes the duration and time of incident. District staff members complete an additional report each time restraint is used and whenever seclusion is used for more than fifteen minutes, and parents are contacted within 24 hours. As a practice, district staff members inform parents of the logs and all incidents of seclusion, even those for less than 15 minutes. The district will revise its written guidelines to reflect this practice. Interviews with staff members confirmed these logging practices are followed within the district and they comply with the department’s directives.

In the complaint, the parent also expressed concerns about the currency of staff training in the use of restraint, and reports she was told the student was restrained by an untrained staff member on October 11, 2010. The department’s directives state it is important to ensure staff who will use restraint have the information and training necessary, and the training must include the continuum of interventions, not just techniques for restraint. The directives further state it is important to have more than one staff person trained in physical restraint as that person may not always be available. However, even with the provision of training, sometimes because of imminent danger to the student and/or others, restraint may have to be used by someone who has not been trained.

The district maintains a schedule of recommended communication and training activities around the use of seclusion and restraint. Each fall, the department’s directives are reviewed with staff. Each year a building plan is developed that creates a response team, establishes response procedures, and establishes de-briefing procedures. Staff training needs regarding non-violent crisis interventions are identified, including the need for refresher training. Consistent with the district’s schedule, the district has provided training for several staff members in non-violent crisis intervention, including this particular student’s teacher and aide. The district also ensures staff members receive refresher training when required. On October 11, the student was involved in several behavioral incidents; however, the interventions used by district staff were not restraint. The district’s practices around training in the use of restraint comply with the department’s directives.

This concludes our review of this complaint, which we are closing.

//signed CST 5/23/11
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy