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Letter to Racine Unified School

November 20, 2007

Jackson Parker
Interim District Administrator
Racine Unified School District
2220 Northwestern Avenue
Racine, Wisconsin 53404-2597

Dear Dr. Parker:

As you are aware, the department is in the process of investigating the use of the Rifton chair in Racine Unified School District. The district was directed to stop using the Rifton chair with the belt, tray or any other type of restricting device, unless adaptive seating is needed pursuant to the child’s individualized education program (IEP) because the child needs postural or stabilizing support due to an orthopedic impairment. The Rifton chair with a belt, tray or any type of restraining device must not be used for cuing, providing a secure area, reminder to sit, or in general, for behavioral management or sensory integration purposes. The manufacter’s website explicitly states that Rifton equipment is not intended to be used as a behavioral restraint. This is true for diagnostic situations as well as day-to-day classroom activities. A Rifton chair where the belt or tray has been removed may be used as long as the child is able to get in and out of the chair freely at all times. Furthermore, it is not sufficient if the belt has been buckled behind the chair. The belt must be removed.

Each building principal where a Rifton chair was used has been asked to sign an assurance that the Rifton chair with a belt or other type of restraining device is either not being used or being used for adaptive seating due to an orthopedic impairment and pursuant to an IEP, as described above. The department is in the process of collecting these assurances. The following school has not submitted an assurance: Olympia Brown Elementary. The following schools must submit revised assurances: Dr. Jones Elementary and Jerstad-Agerholm Elementary. The department expects the district to ensure that these assurances are completed and submitted to the department immediately.

On November 5-6, 2007, department staff visited each of the buildings identified as previously using Rifton chairs, and interviewed classroom teachers and other staff. Based on these interviews, it was confirmed that the Rifton chair with a belt was used inappropriately with certain students. It was used for behavioral restraint, and for other inappropriate purposes such as a cue to begin working, a reminder to sit, help understand personal space, and acclimation to sitting. The Rifton chair with a belt appeared to be predominately used with children with autism or with cognitive disabilities. Classroom teachers and other district staff were informed that the Rifton chair must not be used in this way. The department will continue to monitor the district to ensure that these practices have ceased.

During the interviews, department staff also determined classroom teachers and special education aides do not have adequate training regarding positive behavior interventions, sensory integration, and the very limited circumstances under which the use of restraint is appropriate. Because of these staff-development needs, the department, in conjunction with the district, has identified the following training requirements:

  • Department staff will provide district-wide training for special education teachers, building principals, and special education aides on the department’s Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Seclusion and Physical Restraint in Special Education Programs.
  • The district will, at district expense, provide crisis intervention training through a certified program. This training may be provided through a trainer of trainer model.
  • Elementary and early childhood special education teachers will receive training on positive behavioral interventions. This training will be provided at district expense by outside consultants through a contractual arrangement with the district, and it will be ongoing. The training will include classroom modeling.
  • Elementary and early childhood special education teachers will receive training by CESA staff and/or outside consultants at district expense on autism and the social/emotional foundations of early learning.

In addition, the district must conduct an IEP team meeting for each student who was placed in a Rifton chair and was restricted in movement by a belt or through other means during the 2007-2008 school year. Depending upon the needs of the student, the IEP team must consider whether a functional behavioral assessment is appropriate, positive behavioral interventions and strategies, and occupational or physical therapy. If the chair with a belt is used for adaptive seating because of a child’s orthopedic impairment, the IEP must be revised to reflect this need. The term “supportive seating” is not sufficient to document this need because it is too vague and can lead to misinterpretation.

The contracted outside consultants will assist the district in the development of functional behavioral assessments and behavioral intervention plans, and in revising the IEPs. All IEP meetings must be completed immediately, and no later than December 14, 2007.

Department staff will work with the district to develop a training schedule that will be timely. Department staff will also meet monthly with the outside consultants, the special education director, and other district staff as appropriate, to monitor progress and ensure that these corrective actions are completed.

Thank you for your continued cooperation.

//signed CST 11/20/07
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy