The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) has new administrative procedures for the use of restraint and seclusion in the district. HUUSD Superintendent Michael Leichliter said that the HUUSD Board worked to develop new procedures in summer 2023 which are posted to the district’s website.
The procedures, which guide school staff in knowing how to conduct themselves and respond in certain situations, were amended to reflect a change in district policy around the use of restraint and seclusion. In late May, the HUUSD Board voted to prohibit the use of prone and supine restraints in HUUSD schools.
Prone restraint requires placing a person face-down on the floor or another surface and applying physical pressure to keep the person’s body in that position. Supine restraint is similar but places a person in a face-up position on their back.
The Vermont Agency of Education allows the use of these restraints, making HUUSD’s new policy more restrictive than the state’s. HUUSD schools can still use other types of restraint, according to Leichliter.
In its May 24 meeting, the board prohibited seclusion from being used with the exception of situations where physical restraint is contraindicated for a particular student. In these cases, an administrator must notify the superintendent in writing along with a detailed explanation and documentation from the student’s medical provider about why restraints should not be used with that student, according to the new procedures. This piece of the policy goes into effect on June 30, 2024.
At the time of the May vote, Leichliter said that no prone or supine restraints had been used in any HUUSD school in the 2023 school year and there have been zero instances of seclusion. He said that 39 total restraints were used in the district from August 29, 2022, to May 22, 2023, compared to 129 restraints and 30 cases of seclusion between August 26, 2021, to May 22, 2022.
After a former special educator in the HUUSD raised the issue of restraint and seclusion in the district in spring 2022, the school board formed a subcommittee to review the district’s policy on the use of restraint and seclusion. The subcommittee has since ended since it filled its purpose of reviewing and amending the policy, according to board chair Kristen Rodgers.
Vermont State Representative Anne Donahue for Washington-1 district said that conversations around the use of seclusion and restraint in institutional settings is “an evolution over a long history.” She said that debate began at least 30 years ago when restraint and seclusion were used as forms of punishment and abuse in medical settings. An awareness around the use of restraint and seclusion in schools followed, according to Donahues’ reflections.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in a 2012 report published by the U.S. Department of Education that “there continues to be no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective in reducing the occurrence of the problem behaviors that frequently precipitate the use of such techniques.” He wrote that the use of restraint and seclusion can lead to serious health consequences and death.
A 2023 investigation conducted by data reporters at Heart Newspapers found that since 1989, at least 85 children, teens and young adults under 21 years old have died after being restrained or kept in seclusion in public and private schools, juvenile detention centers, residential facilities and other settings that cater to kids with special needs.
The HUUSD policy reads that the district’s goal is to reduce all forms of restraint and seclusion. It also recognizes the presence of trauma in the student population. Donahue said that this is an important piece – “the recognition that seclusion or restraint, by its very nature, can cause trauma.”
“This is a really critical aspect that every policy should state clearly. There needs to be recognition that anytime you are using seclusion or restraint, you are likely causing further trauma. That being secluded or restrained can become part of one’s trauma history,” she said.
The use of restraint and seclusion in schools is a statewide and national issue. A Vermont House bill to restrict the use of these in schools (H.409) was taken up by the Legislature earlier this year.