Bold Action Needed to Address Overuse of Restraint and Seclusion in Maine Schools

Posted on June 19, 2019

In May 2019, DRM released the report Restraint and Seclusion in Maine Schools: Reviewing the First Six Years of Data Required by MDOE Rule Chapter 33. DRM found that during the 2017-2018 school year, Maine schools used more than 20,000 restraints and seclusions on Maine students. When DRM compared Maine to the national numbers, we found that Maine students are restrained and secluded at rates over four to eleven times the national average. As DRM found with the Chapter 33 data, the GAO recently reported that the national numbers are inaccurately low. And, DRM documented the significantly disproportionate rates these practices are used on students with disabilities. Chapter 33 was designed to bring these practices into the light and ensure that schools were working to reduce the reliance on these emergency measures. But the numbers continue to grow.

Bold action is required to address the rampant use of these dangerous practices on Maine students. In the Report, DRM calls for a ban on seclusion and further restrictions on restraint. That would be a good start.

The release of the Report garnered extensive coverage in the news, including by the Portland Press Herald, Newscenter Maine, MPBN, and The Associated Press. Bangor Daily News created an online map tool for readers to view the use of restraint and seclusion in their local schools, highlighting those with higher per-student rates.

The Portland Press Herald Editorial Staff responded to the Report, stating: “Neither restraints nor seclusion are helpful – there are no therapeutic benefits to either, and no evidence they are effective in reducing the occurrence of the behaviors that made them necessary in the first place. What’s more, they can traumatize students and injure staff.” And, “If schools need help, they should get it. If they are resistant to change, the state should use every tool available to push them in the right direction. The report shows that such action is necessary. For too many Maine students, school is an ongoing emergency.”

In the legislature, Rep. Richard Farnsworth, sponsored a bill to address some of the reporting and review issues. At the public hearing on L.D. 1376, parents of students affected by these dangerous practices shared their emotional stories for the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. And, more wrote into the Committee. This bill was passed to be enacted, but has been held over for final action next session due to a fiscal note.

Though great awareness has been raised through the Report, the news coverage, and the proposed bill, none of it goes far enough to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion in Maine.

In DRM’s continuing effort to raise awareness of these dangerous practices, DRM is co-hosting a screening and panel discussion of The Kids We Lose on July 9, 2019 from 6:00 - 9:00 PM at Hannaford Hall, USM, 88 Bedford St, Portland, ME. The film is a powerful demonstration of the human side of being a child or student with behavioral challenges, and the struggles faced by parents, educators, staff in facilities, mental health clinicians, and judicial and law enforcement professionals in trying to ensure that these kids receive the help they need. Please join us.

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