The use of restraint and seclusion in the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) has been under fire for the past several months. State data shows in recent years HUUSD schools have used these practices more frequently than in other Vermont schools. Former HUUSD special educator and former board member Brian Dalla Mura raised concerns about the use of these practices in HUUSD schools last spring and has remained vocal about the potential risks to students when such interventions are employed. Prone restraint and seclusion are banned in some states.
The school district has been listening. A committee of educators and staff has been formed to analyze the district’s use of restraint and seclusion and a separate HUUSD Board subcommittee is reviewing the HUUSD’s policy on all forms of restraint and seclusion.
This week, the HUUSD restraint and seclusion subcommittee met with consultant Dyane Carrere, author of “The Reset Process,” who also spoke about trauma-informed practices to all elementary and secondary school educators and support staff in the district last week. In speaking to the subcommittee, Carrere emphasized the need for training on trauma and dysregulation for all school staff, including custodians, food service workers and anyone who comes into contact with students so that anyone in the school can assist “pulling [students] away from the tipping point.” These practices may include speaking in a quiet, calm voice, talking to the student(s), being aware of actions such as not flipping on bright lights or doing anything that might exacerbate a student’s dysregulation, which she described as “when our ability to focus, emotionally control and physically control ourselves is not a match for the environmental demands.” This involves understanding stress and trauma and how to routinely help children regulate. “Think about opportunities to teach them to calm.” This may include safe spaces, self-soothing activities or resources such as regulation posters to remind students of strategies for self-regulation.
Carrere identified goals for the district to include increasing communications among all parties, critically examining cycles of student escalation, increasing whole staff understanding of trauma, developing more extensive early intervention practices and creating more cohesive reactions to behaviors. “We have a responsibility not just to the physical safety but the emotional safety of the child,” she said.
“In my personal and professional opinion, I wouldn’t put a child in prone restraint . . . It should always be, ‘Is there anything else I can do?’ When the situation calls for it, ‘how do we do that in a way that’s as safe as possible?’ Prone [restraint] may be physically safe but not emotionally safe. It may cause [students] to be escalated longer and can compromise the relationship with the adult and student(s),” Carrere said.
She said one potential alternative to restraining a child may be to clear the area or to choose a less emotionally distressing form of restraint than prone or supine restraint.
In terms of seclusion, HUUSD superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter said that practice is not currently being used in district schools but was used earlier in the pandemic when the Agency of Education’s guidance advised schools to seclude students when their behavior had escalated so as not to physically touch them.
The committee discussed potentially adding language regarding implementing trauma-informed practices to its restraint and seclusion policy, as well as whether seclusion can be eliminated in HUUSD policy. The committee will discuss that potential language with the district’s attorney as well as student support services.
The subcommittee’s next meeting will be Monday, December 5, at 5 p.m. at Harwood Union High School and on Zoom.