Over the past several months, concerns about the use of prone restraint and seclusion in the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) have been brought to the school board. The Vermont State Board of Education’s Rule 4500 defines prone restraint as “holding a student face down on his or her stomach using physical force for the purpose of controlling the student's movement.” It says, “Physical Restraint means the use of physical force to prevent an imminent and substantial risk of bodily harm to the student or others … Prone and supine physical restraints are more restrictive than other forms of physical restraint and may be used only when the student's size and severity of behavior require such a restraint because a less restrictive restraint has failed or would be ineffective to prevent harm to the student or others.”
A task force has been created to conduct a comprehensive review of the use of these practices in HUUSD schools throughout the 2022-2023 school year. The task force will include director of student support services Jon Berliner, Moretown Elementary School principal Mandy Couturier, Brookside co-principal Chris Neville, Crossett Brook assistant principal Kellie Klassen, Harwood co-principal Megan McDonough and superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter.
Brookside Primary School’s use of these interventions has been noted of particular concern, as data from 2017-2018 indicated that the use of prone restraint and seclusion in the Waterbury school was the highest in the state, though those numbers have declined in the last few years. In a letter to the community from superintendent Mike Leichliter, HUUSD board chair Kristen Rodgers, and vice chair Kelley Hackett (which was printed in full in last week’s issue of The Valley Reporter) it was noted that a moratorium has been placed on using prone and supine restraints in the district, effective immediately.
Berliner, Brookside Primary School co-principals Sarah Schoolcraft and Chris Neville, and Courtier presented to the board on August 31 on Rule 4500 and the district’s policy on seclusion and restraint. Berliner said the goal of the presentation was to provide context and additional information to the board as it reviews the existing policy, which Leichliter said was enacted in 2014. The board will revisit the policy at its October 26 meeting. The task force will continue to develop a comprehensive review of the practice in HUUSD schools and will provide the board with an initial report in January 2023 and a final report by the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
Leichliter said the group’s goals include prevention, review of incidents and a systemic approach to considering what other areas the district may look at to ensure the frequency of such interventions declines. “We need to see a steady decline and more training so that we don’t have to touch students to keep either that student safe or our other students safe,” he said.
Some of the questions that came from board members at the presentation included what areas could use the most improvement, what other schools are doing that could be implemented across the district and what the process is for acknowledging incidents and repairing the school community afterwards.
“The fact that we are such an outlier on our data, I feel like it’s important for us to understand why,” Life LeGeros, Duxbury, said. “Trying to understand and be accountable to our community and say ‘here’s our analysis of the situation.” He commended the group for taking “the kind of bold action we need when we see our students may be in harmful situations. I think that the plan going forward sounds great.” Jonathan Young, Warren, also thanked Leichliter for “having the courage to make a change” and called the task force review process “an important first step.”