To the Honorable Members of the Joint Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs,
My name is Deb Davis. I’m a proud parent and member of the stakeholder team that worked collaboratively to revise Chapter 33, rules governing the use of physical restraint and seclusion in Maine schools. I’m writing to urge you not to pass LD 243, Resolve, To Direct the Department of Education To Amend Its Rules Regarding Restraint of Students, as it is currently written.
Parts of my story are not experiences I enjoy sharing but I’m hopeful that you can have a better window into how critical Chapter 33 is to protect the safety and well-being of all individuals in Maine schools.
Our experiences with restraint and seclusion began in Sept. 2010, when our child started Kindergarten. It was the start to a new school year but it was a little more complicated for my family. Early on, it was clear that our child’s development was delayed and behavior was challenging, outside the limits of ordinary.
We had already spent years working through the confusing maze of private evaluations. Before the transition to kindergarten, there were meetings with our preschool team, Child Development Services, and the new elementary school team. We proceeded with cautious optimism.
In the third week of school, I received a phone call that changed everything. Hearing our child had been physically restrained by school staff on the playground completely rocked me to my very core.
It was shocking that we had never been made aware of this serious and risky intervention. We then had many emergency IEP meetings and we reached out to disability rights advocates. More could have been done to prevent this traumatic incident from happening. Every day after that call, we worried for our child’s safety and well-being.
Our greatest worry came after the use of the prone restraint position. Other states had already had incidents of prone restraint that resulted in death because this position can interrupt breathing. Our child still has unpleasant memories of that time. We worried that if our child was in an escalated state, staff may try to move him, at times moving him down a set of stairs. We also worried about the effects of our child being placed in a seclusion room.
Many sleepless nights brought me to the ME DOE website where I found state laws. Immediately it was apparent that my local school policies were not consistent with the state regulations and the seclusion room was not meeting state standards.
And, my district had not yet addressed a letter from the ME DOE from 2009 that strongly supported avoiding using restraint in “any body position that restricts the airway”, also known as the prone position.
Fortunately, our school district acted quickly and updated its policy. We were very grateful for our district’s rapid response. We worked collaboratively with our school to do a functional behavioral assessment. We then created a positive behavior intervention plan and a crisis plan with great results.
It was then that I was invited by the Commissioner of Education to join the stakeholder team that was reviewing Chapter 33. So began a year-long process of monthly trips to Augusta. With no experience in the field of education or disability rights, my effort and focus bounced back and forth between the best interests of my child and the needs of other children and parents.
The consensus based rule making process was painstaking and the pace frustrating. We spent 85 hours meeting and countless hours researching and seeking information from other states. Each stakeholder compromised, which allowed the group to finish the task. It was an honor to be part of the team and I’m so proud of the work we accomplished.
If LD 243 passes, the work we accomplished to make schools safer will be lost and I’m again flooded with the old worries. A recent U.S. news headline read: “Death at School: Child Restraints Spark Controversy”. None of us want this repeated here in Maine.
My child has been restraint and seclusion free since Jan 2010 as the result of effective use of positive behavioral interventions and supports. My family is hopeful that our child’s education will progress to a good outcome. We are grateful to our school district and to the state of Maine for working diligently and collaboratively with us towards our goals.
Please never forget that restraint and seclusion carry risks so great that these must be preserved for emergencies only. Staff must be appropriately trained to keep everyone safe and must understand the meaning of the rules governing the use of restraint and seclusion. But most importantly, all efforts should focus on using less intrusive, more positive alternatives to restraint and seclusion.
Thank you for you for your time and efforts to protect the safety and well-being of all individuals in Maine Schools and their families.
Sincerely, Deb Davis
Non-legal Education Advocate