Colorado bill limiting progress on seclusion and restraint

Despite strong objections from school districts and charter schools, the House Education Committee has backed a sweeping bill that limits the use of seclusion and restraint, sets higher standards for officers school resources and collects more data on disciplinary practices.

The broader goal of the bill, sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Mary Young of Greeley and Leslie Herod of Denver, is to improve the school climate and create a better learning environment.

“We try to create a safe environment where students want to come to school and are eager to come to school,” Young said.

Students of color and people with disabilities are more likely to be suspended or expelled, referred to law enforcement, and placed in physical holds or seclusion rooms, but it’s unclear what happens in the schools that contributes to these disparities.

Supporters, who include education and disability rights advocates, said reporting more consistent and transparent data is a starting point for bigger changes, while the limits the bill imposes constraints and isolation will reduce practices that can inflict lasting emotional damage.

Opponents, who include special education directors and representatives of school districts and charter schools, said they support the goals but the bill would drown them in paperwork to solve an imaginary problem.

“Our current system is working,” said Jon Paul Burdon, director of exceptional student services for the Weld Re-4 district.

Opponents also want a task force to determine data reporting changes that make sense, rather than dictate them into law, and they want to maintain current isolation and restraint rules.

A 2017 law already bans dangerous prone restraints and requires school districts to conduct annual reviews of their use of seclusion, which means locking a student in a room, and restraint, which the law defines as putting a student on physical hold for more than five years. minutes.

But they don’t have to release this information publicly or share it with the Colorado Department of Education.

A Chalkbeat survey found wide variations in how school districts track and report this information. Because districts don’t have to submit their annual reviews to a government agency, there’s little oversight, and when state regulators identify violations, they don’t have the power to order corrective action. , a gap that the bill would fill.

The bill makes three main changes.

  • This would require the state education department to collect more data on school climate, student discipline, and law enforcement referrals and make that information readily available. The data would be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, disability status, etc., to make it easier to see which groups of students are most affected.
  • This would prohibit handcuffing students except in limited circumstances, and would require schools to document physical holds that last longer than one minute. Rooms used for isolation should meet certain safety requirements.
  • It would set new standards for school resource officers, including that they have experience working with young people and that they want to work in schools.

Student behavior presents major challenges

Lisa Humberd, executive director of special education for the District of Widefield, described a fourth-grader with severe emotional disturbance who works hard for better self-regulation but doesn’t always succeed.

“When she is unable to defuse, she becomes physically violent towards herself, other students and staff,” Humbert said. “Behaviors can include throwing objects at students and staff, from pencils to tables to chairs, books or laptops, hitting and kicking students and staff, trying to suffocate students and staff, trying to choke themselves, trying to poke others in the eyes trying to stab themselves with pens or pencils, banging their heads against the wall, the floor or tables.

Restraints for this girl often last two to four minutes, Humberd said. These restrictions do not require documentation under current law, but would be under new law.

Burdon described an elementary school student who was hospitalized due to self-harm and staff injuries that generated workers’ compensation claims. The staff sometimes places the student on hold several times a day. According to the bill, each detention would generate one to two hours of additional paperwork, he said.

“We are already facing the biggest teacher shortage on record, and people are leaving the field due to the unmanageable burdens constantly being added to teachers, administrators and specialist staff,” he said. “We need good people to take care of our children in our schools.”

Humberd and Burdon said restraint is only used as a last resort, staff are well trained and parents are involved in developing behavior plans.

Pam Bisceglia, executive director of Advocacy Denver, painted a different picture based on parent reports. Their child may come home from school with a few stickers missing from the chart that tracks good behavior, and then after dinner and a bath notices bruises. Their embarrassed child says he was overpowered at school.

“The parent wonders why no one called to let them know it happened during the school day,” she said.

By documenting any restraints that last longer than a minute, parents, therapists and school staff can work to prevent future outbursts and the need for traumatic physical holds, Bisceglia said. On a broader level, this would allow districts and the state to see which schools rely more on restraint and promote better practices.

Teachers who testified in support of the bill said they saw better data lead to changes in classroom practices in their schools, changes that were good for students and educators.

Pamela Kaspar, a member of Stand for Children, which supports the bill, said verbal delays and a stressful move across the country led her son to struggle at school early on. Instead of getting help, her son was sent to the office or home. These suspensions have not been documented.

“If this documentation had been provided to us, it would have painted a very gloomy picture of what the school’s disciplinary policy looked like, and we would have chosen another school for him sooner,” she said.

At a new school with better support, Tristan thrived, Kaspar said.

“I hope this bill will pass,” said 11-year-old Tristan. “So kids like me, who are afraid to have the same experience as me, they don’t have to, and they can have a school that is justice.”

The House Education Committee moved the bill forward Thursday night in a 6-3 party-line vote. With less than three weeks to go from session, the bill still needs to pass the full House and Senate, where opponents could still seek amendments.

Bureau Chief Erica Meltzer covers education policy and politics and oversees Chalkbeat Colorado’s education coverage. Contact Erica at [email protected]

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