School board passes revised restraint policy

The Bellevue School Board voted Tuesday night to pass a revised form of its emergency restraint policy for special needs students. Early in June, members of the community showed up en masse at a meeting of the board to speak out against an initial version of the policy.

Specifically, commenters took issue with the vague wording of "unpredicted, spontaneous behavior" as a reason to use forceful restraint and isolation on students.

Commenters also questioned which staff members were authorized to use force.

The board was required to pass a restraint policy to become compliant with a state law passed in 2013. The law requires districts to share their restraint policies with families of students with Individualized Education Plans, effectively requiring districts to have said policies on the books.

The version of the policy passed Tuesday was extensively rewritten to specify the need for a clear and present danger to persons or property and exhaustively repeat the restraint methods' status as a course of last resort.

Cathy McVey and Jennifer Karls, both parents who had spoken out against the initial draft of the policy, thanked the board for the revisions and asked them to consider further prohibitions on certain methods of force. McVey asked why use of a baton was not included on a list of prohibited methods.

"I would also ask the board to consider adding floor safe holds to this prohibited list," McVey said. "If a safe hold is deemed necessary, the use of a wall safe hold or a chair safe hold could still be utilized. Floor safe holds are more invasive, cause more injuries, reduce the child's dignity and cause long term emotional and social damage to both the child as well as their families." McVey further urged the board to limit the staff authorized to restrain students to those who had undergone specialized training.

Eric Warwick, president of the Sammamish High School Disabled Abled Coalition, said the only person acting on the district's restraint policy should be a trained police officer responding to a threat that was "truly a danger to students," such as when a weapon is introduced on campus.

Warwick continued to say that the policy was inadequate when it came to certain self-injuring behaviors like biting or hair-pulling that can be common self-soothing techniques among certain students with autism.

"I happen to do all of these behaviors," he said. "These behaviors make me feel better, safer, calmer and more in control of myself. They may look odd, but they don't hurt anyone."

Board President Steve McConnell said, having personal experience with the district's restraint policy, he understood concerns. Restraint would be able to be carefully studied given that every instance is documented, he said.


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