KIYC: Parents, advocates question effectiveness of schools restraining students with special needs
Some parents of students with special needs say their kids are repeatedly restrained by school personnel. A Kane In Your Corner investigation found restraint is sometimes used in ways that violate New Jersey law. Now, a new approach being rolled out in a handful of districts nationwide raises questions about just how necessary the controversial tactic really is.
Sherman Baskerville, 7, has been restrained multiple times at his elementary school in Cliffwood Beach.
“They’ll have me down on the ground, and every time, I can’t move,” he says.
Sherman’s mother, Shanice Baskerville, says she’s also personally witnessed her daughter being restrained, which she says is “the worst thing I ever saw.”
Anthony Ratliff is still traumatized after being restrained at his old school in Lawrence. Records show it sometimes happened multiple times a day.
“I have ADHD so I can't sit for long. So, I might try to get up,” he says. “If I thought they were going to restrain me, I'd probably run. But then they would restrain me because I was running.”
Q&A: Kane In Your Corner investigates student restraint methods in New Jersey schools. Is it needed?
There are no statistics on how often students are restrained in New Jersey. This is the first year that school districts are required to keep track. But many education advocates contend the practice is overused, which results in physical and psychological damage.
Under New Jersey law, students can only be restrained if they present “an immediate danger” to themselves or others. But Kane In Your Corner reviewed dozens of cases, and found some are restrained for things as trivial as tearing a piece of paper.
Adena Romeo Ratliff, Anthony’s mother, says when she complained, a school official urged her to go along with the tactics: “She said ‘The more we restrain him, the more we'll break this behavior.’”
Matawan-Aberdeen School Superintendent Joseph Majka says he is “not at liberty to discuss the specifics of [Sherman’s] case,” but says, “the district has a legally-compliant policy on restraint and seclusion.”
Lawrence Superintendent Ross Kasun says his district also has “policies in place to comply with the law.”
RELATED: KIYC investigation finds some school districts are using potentially dangerous restraint methods on students with special needs
Education advocate Renay Zamloot contends following the law isn’t enough. Because the law requires districts to train staff on restraint techniques, she says districts come to rely on it, rather than attempting to defuse potential crises before they happen.
“They’re not intervening at the proper point,” Zamloot says.
That may be starting to change. One company, Ukeru Systems, now offers a different kind of training; not on how to restrain students, but on how to avoid needing to. As part of the training, staffers are taught to use foam pads to block out-of-control kids from hurting others.
“If someone's coming to punch me or to bite me, wouldn't it be better if I could block them with something nice and soft?” Ukeru’s CEO, Kim Sanders, asks rhetorically.
Ukeru says districts that complete training typically reduce restraint by 50% or more. The Millcreek district in Pennsylvania reduced the use of restraint from 47 students to zero in two years.
“It’s common sense,” Sanders says. “If you ask a room of 50 adults, ‘what helps you when you’re at your worst?’ you don't get people saying, ‘Restrain me or put me in a room alone.’ If we don't want it, why do we think kids want it?”