At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, a task force was assembled to address the use of prone and supine restraints in the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD). The school board also assembled a subcommittee to review the district’s policy regarding these interventions and recommend any changes the committee agrees upon. The use of restraint and seclusion in HUUSD schools has been under scrutiny over the past months. Alarming data collected over the past few years indicated higher instances of the use of these interventions in HUUSD schools compared to other schools in the state.
The task force is comprised of director of student support services Jon Berliner, Moretown Elementary School principal Mandy Couturier, Brookside Primary School co-principal Chris Neville and Harwood Union High School co-principal Meg McDonough, who have been working with HUUSD superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter. At the HUUSD Board’s January 25 meeting, the task force presented its mid-year report on restraint and seclusion to the board.
At the start of the school year, Leichliter put a moratorium on the use of prone and supine restraints on students. “I don’t believe prone and supine restraints have any place in schools, period,” Leichliter said. Data the task force presented showed that, from the beginning of this school year up until January 25, 34 restraints and zero seclusions had been used on students in the district, compared to the same time period last year in which 102 restraints and 28 seclusions had been used. “It’s a significant reduction and there is still work for us to do as a district moving forward,” Berliner said.
This year, the district has been working with consultant Dyane Lewis Carrere, author of “The Re-set Process,” to train HUUSD staff in trauma-informed practices. Carrere presented to all HUUSD educators in November on how to identify trauma in students and handle it appropriately. “The goal is to avoid having to use restraint and seclusion as much as we possibly can,” Neville said.
Board member Jake Pitman said he was glad the district has been taking action and, as a former behavioral interventionist in the HUUSD, he had to be involved in restraining students nearly every day. “I quit because I could not believe what I was required to do every day when I went to work,” he said. “I’m very happy to see this discussed at this level.”
“We are very relieved that Dr. Mike took swift action and established a moratorium,” Waterbury Area Anti-Racism Coalition’s Erin Hurley said during the board’s public comment period. “We think the school board needs to look at a permanent policy that supports the moratorium. It’s good news the rates in our district have gone down but we have students and families that have trauma from the use of prone restraint and seclusion. We believe the board should make a lasting policy change.”
“I also feel it’s important for the current board to vote on this policy as you have all been through the process from the beginning,” said former HUUSD Board member and educator Brian Dalla Mura in a follow-up email.
The founding director of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, Guy Stephens, said that he has spoken to Leichliter and Berliner about the use of these practices. “Restraint and seclusion are interventions that can lead to a lot of harm. Restraint and seclusion lead to significant trauma, injury and can even lead to death.” He said these practices are banned in 33 states and that “seclusion and isolation should never be used on a child.”
During the pandemic, the Vermont Agency of Education’s guidance on the use of seclusion changed as physically touching students was not a viable option given COVID-19.
Berliner explained that the HUUSD uses a different crisis prevention model (CPI) than the outside agencies the district works with, such as Green Mountain Behavior Consulting and Washington County Mental Health, which use the “handle with care” model, which does include the option of prone restraint. Couturier, who has led trainings on CPI, said the model really emphasizes the use of restraints and seclusion as a last resort if there is an immediate risk to the student’s self and others. Some board members expressed concerns with an outright ban on the use of prone and supine restraints and seclusion and worried that outside agencies may pull out of the district if the model changes. The task force has been talking to the outside agencies the HUUSD partners with and they have continued to work with the district during the moratorium.
The board’s subcommittee on the district’s restraint and seclusion policy also presented their draft work for comment. “We are wrestling with the language and how we address it in the policy,” committee member Bobbi Rood said.
Leichliter commended Waterbury state representative Theresa Wood for introducing legislation regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in schools to be considered in the general assembly. “I want to thank Representative Wood for her work on this,” Leichliter said.
The board’s subcommittee on restraint and seclusion will consider the board’s comments, finalize a draft policy and have the HUUSD counsel review it before warning the policy and the board voting on adopting it.