We are writing to bring another perspective to “Disabled students face dangerous discipline” (April 28), which unfortunately did not tell the whole story about the use of prone restraints in Minnesota schools.
The article failed to acknowledge that the state is one of the many making the move to reduce the use of seclusion and restraints on students. Efforts to reduce the use of restrictive procedures in Minnesota are very new — in place just a year and half — and similar examples of misuse cited in the article are what brought about this change.
In 2008, stakeholders in education and children’s mental health came together to create a community consensus on the use of these procedures. We looked at what was being done in the mental-health field and what other states had done to protect children with disabilities from harm.
The story of the student in Willmar that was told in the April 28 article was one we’d used to help advocate for the resulting law, which was passed with difficulty in 2009.
The article missed the crucial point that these procedures do not change behavior and are not to be used for discipline. Minnesota bans their use except during an emergency in order to protect the student and other students and staff. And it places a total ban on restraints that restrict breathing.
The law requires extensive training for staff on positive behaviors, de-escalation, relationship-building, communicative intent of behaviors and alternatives. Staff must conduct debriefings after each procedure to help understand what could have been done differently.
In addition, parents have to be notified when a restrictive procedure is used on their child. A measure that is being considered this session would further restrict the use of restraints to emergency situations in which students could endanger themselves or others.
Stakeholders are continuing to come together to examine the implementation of the law and to address emerging concerns. This includes clarifying the definition of an emergency and beefing up the local review teams. Most important, the stakeholders know that schools need help to continue to decrease their use.
There are still plenty of issues to be addressed by the education, mental-health and advocacy communities to reduce the use of restrictive procedures, including training and technical assistance and expanded access to mental-health and autism treatment.
What we don’t want is for schools to stop using them and resort to an increased use of police, homebound education or the “reasonable force” law that allows school staff to protect a child from harm (with no training or reporting requirements).
We have a long way to go on this issue, but let’s not overlook the progress that has been made or that the main goal remains keeping students safe.
Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota House and chief author of HF771, a bill to clarify the use of restraints in schools. Sue Abderholden is executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota.