AUGUSTA — The Maine Education Association said confusion over new rules that govern restraint of students in public schools has resulted in numerous injuries to educators in Maine.
In one case, according to a press release from the MEA, an educational technician was scratched, bitten and thrown against a wall. The ed tech reportedly did not touch the child, but rather suffered the injury for fear of breaking new restraint rules put in place this year.
Lois Kilby-Chesley, a teacher and president of the Maine Education Association, said this incident was one of “dozens being reported in schools around the state.”
The new rules were developed by a stakeholders’ group after complaints from parents about their children being physically restrained and in some cases secluded in “safe rooms.” The rules were adopted by the Legislature in March of this year.
In addition to offering clearer definitions of restraint and seclusion in cases of extreme behavior by students, the new guidelines in Chapter 33 of the Department of Education’s rules require teachers to be trained and lay out an extensive documentation and review process.
The new rules say that an educator cannot physically restrain a child except in the case of an emergency.
“The rules of restraint, known as Chapter 33, on paper seem clear,” Kilby-Chesley said. “However, educators have not received proper training on how to implement the rules.”
Kilby-Chesley said one problem with the new guidelines is that they are not clear about what constitutes an emergency. School districts are required to provide training about the new rules, but the MEA says the training that has taken place in many districts is insufficient.
“A two-hour Power Point presentation is not enough training to deal with the intricacies of the rule,” said Kilby-Chesley. “I have heard from educators across the state fearful if they do so much as touch a child’s arm to prevent them from throwing a book they will lose their jobs. I can’t imagine this is what the rule is intended to do.”
In addition to its press release, Kilby-Chesley said the MEA has written a letter detailing its concerns to Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.