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On January 17th the Department of Education released a press release announcing an initiative to address the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion to protect children with disabilities. The press release said the following:

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in partnership with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), will oversee this proactive approach which will protect students with disabilities by providing technical assistance and support to schools, districts, and state education agencies, and strengthen enforcement activities.

The release then went on to say it would provide technical assistance to help meet the professional learning needs of the system serving children. The department said they would support schools seeking resources and information on appropriate use of intervention and supports to address the behavioral needs of students with disabilities.

As a parent of a special needs child and as a professional who teaches a course that works to limit and when possible eliminate restraints, I got excited. I thought to myself finally, the federal government is stepping up to assist in what many of us have known to be an issue for some time. But then I tried to get more information. Have you ever tried to call and talk to someone in the Office of Civil Rights or Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services? I spent a couple days and never talked to a live person.

I then went the route of e-mail. Several weeks later I received the following in a reply:

This email is in response to your January 23, 2019 email to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education (Department). In your email, you noted that you work for a company that provides safety training to school systems around the country. You asked to be contacted to discuss the Department’s initiatives to address the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion, and what you should be sharing in trainings with your customers. While we cannot provide the assistance you request, we can provide you with some publicly available information that you may find helpful.

On January 17, 2019, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the Department’s initiative to address the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion to protect children with disabilities. The initiative will provide technical assistance and support to schools, districts, and state education agencies, along with strengthening OCR’s enforcement activities. The initiative will include three components: compliance reviews conducted by OCR on recipients’ use of restraint and seclusion on children with disabilities; data quality reviews by OCR to improve restraint and seclusion data submitted as part of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC); and technical assistance provided by OCR and the Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) to schools and districts.

What!?!? I got an e-mail outlining the press release but no information about what the initiative entails and the assistance available or how to access it. It would appear that the government once again made a statement with nothing to back it up of real substance. Since it appears the Department of Education will not give out what is necessary to reduce and eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion, let me outline what we have found to be most effective after 43 years of partnering with organizations to reduce restrictive practices:

1. Create learning environments that are safe physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically.

2. Move away from managing negative behavior and move toward supporting positive behavior.

3. Provide educators and staff the necessary training to have the tools to prevent and de-escalate before trying to teach how to physically manage a student.

4. Leadership that supports initiatives and creative alternatives to physical restraint and seclusion.

5. A trauma informed understanding about just who the kids with challenging behaviors are and where they are coming to us from.

6. Honest and true data that is tracked and reviewed at on a regular basis.

7. Tools to critically debrief after every restrictive practice occurs with the idea of how to not have it happen the next time.

8. A real partnership between schools, the community and the families of children with challenging behaviors.

True culture change will never take place by a government body. True culture change is when we the people step up and do the right thing, in spite of political assistance, political grand standing and political division. We know what works…relationships! The evidence base practice is and always has been building healthy relationships amongst all stakeholders in education. Let us know how we can assist you in your journey to reduce all restrictive practices.

Tim Geels – Tyler’s dad and Senior Vice President of Mandt

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