City News

MMSD report shows spike in number of students with disabilities restrained or secluded

While incidences of restraint and seclusion decreased overall, Madison schools’ disabled students experienced these “last resort” tactics in 2016-’17 at a higher rate than the previous year.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

The Madison Municipal School District released a report showing that 8.8 percent of students with disabilities experienced incidences of seclusion or restraint over the 2016-’17 school year — an increase from 5.6 percent during the previous year.

Out of the 2,975 elementary school reports, 737 occurrences involved just 10 students in the Landmark Elementary Alternative Program at Olson Elementary School. LEAP was established with the goal of helping students with emotional or behavioral disabilities learn to control their behavior.

Despite the disproportionate LEAP data, the spike in seclusion and restraint rates is nevertheless concerning, according to Anna Moffit, vice president of the Madison School Board.

“The use of exclusionary practices within our district, which includes physical force against our youngest, will only exacerbate the trauma of our most marginalized students. As a district, we must do better,” Moffit told the Capital Times.

Despite the increased proportion of disabled students experiencing restraint or seclusion, the district is experiencing a downward trend in the use of these tactics overall. The total number of occurrences decreased from 3,516 during 2015-’16 to 3,158 in 2016-’17.

In 2015, the Obama administration passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, requiring states to submit education plans focused on accountability and action for positive change. In its plan, Wisconsin defines restraint as physically immobilizing a student or reducing their ability to “freely move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head”. Seclusion is also described as a physical act in which a student is confined to a separate area apart from others and is prevented from leaving.

Wisconsin’s policy on restraint and seclusion deems them a last resort. The document specifies that both actions are only to be used in the case that a student poses physical threat to themselves or others. Additionally, the document offers conditions that must be met for protecting a child’s health and safety.

In addition to state guidelines, MMSD has a unique local policy, which requires that staff participate in Crisis Management & Intervention training. CMI instructs MMSD staff on state legislation regarding restraint and seclusion and trains employees on how to tend to behavioral and emotional escalation. The course is two days long and must be completed prior to employment. 

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