Maine restraint law puts schools in bind

LEWISTON — Local lawmakers and public school officials said Monday they were urging the Maine Department of Education to revisit a rule change made last year regarding student restraints.

The change, which is legally binding for schools and teachers and was approved by the state Legislature, has added a layer of uncertainty on when teachers or other school staff can physically restrain and isolate students who are being disruptive and may be a danger to themselves or others.

"A child spits in their face and they can't do anything about it," Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton said. Saviello said he has met with dozens of teachers in the Farmington area and the effect the rule change is having is dramatic.

"They can't physically break (students) up if they are fighting," Saviello said. "Unless one's life is in danger — so if two kids are pounding the devil out of each other but they are still OK — you can't break it up."

Saviello said he will push for either a petition process that would force the department to reopen the rule or he will seek a resolution from the full Legislature that would likewise force the department to look again at the rule.

On Monday the Maine Education Association issued a release noting the rule change had led to "dozens" of public school teachers or education technicians being injured by students because they felt they had no other option.

The MEA is the union for Maine public school teachers.

MEA President and teacher Lois Kilby-Chesley said on paper the rules seem clear but school management and teachers across the state are experiencing serious issues implementing it.

"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," Kilby-Chesley said. "I can't imagine this is what the rule is intended to do.”

And the issue of revisiting the rule is one that both the union and management agree on.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said the rule is also having some severe and unintended consequences for students.

There have been multiple incidents in Lewiston where the new rule has caused problems, including one where, had a teacher been allowed to use a restraint early on, a violent situation would have been contained, the student would have remained in school and the disruption to the classroom minimized, Webster said.

"It ended up escalating to the point where restraint was required and we had a room — where fortunately there was no damage — but we had desks and chairs overturned and we could have had significant damage. We also did have some minor injuries to staff," Webster said. "Absent that new restraint (rule), I'm convinced this would not have happened."

That student ended up being suspended, remains out of school, is receiving services outside of school and it's still questionable whether that student will be allowed to come back, Webster said. 

He said another incident on the first day of school involved a 5-year-old who refused to enter the kindergarten classroom. The child was throwing a tantrum in the hallway and was allowed to continue doing so, because the child was not a danger to others or himself. The child was, however, disruptive to the other six classrooms in the area as teachers attempted to hold classes.

Webster, along with dozens of other public school administrators in Maine, warned against the rule change last year.

He said he and other superintendents spent time in Augusta earlier this year as the change was being contemplated and vetted but the testimony from people on the other side was often overwhelming. 

"There was a roomful of people all testifying in favor of the rule citing scary stories from across the nation where children had been harmed and in some cases killed through inappropriate use of restraint," Webster said. "Those stories are sad and those stories are gut-wrenching and certainly something we don't want in Maine."

He said there were some changes made based on the input of public school educators but much of the rule was based on incidents that had never occurred in Maine.  

"But it is a real challenging environment to oppose something that is purported to be in the best interests of students," Webster said. "At that point we had no direct experience. Now we have facts we can share which I think will lead to some reasonable adjustments to the rule."

Despite multiple resolutions being passed by local school committees as well as various professional associations, like the Maine School Management Association, the Department of Education has been reluctant to reopen the process.

Katy Grondin, superintendent of Auburn's schools, said her staff was also dealing with the rule change and its unintended consequences.  

One drawback she noted is that even parents who want to give the school more authority to use physical restraints with a child, as needed, have no ability to do that.

"It really has made people feel that their hands are tied," Grondin said.

She said understanding the legal definition of "imminent danger" as it's defined in the rules is not easy and leaves staff uncertain, despite training by lawyers on the topic.  

She said the law requires restraint be used only as a "last resort" and when it is used there is a cascade of documentation and reporting required of the staff.

Each of the Auburn schools has developed "safety care teams," staff who are trained to use restraints and other methods to deal with a dangerous student or situation. 

"It's the challenge of the balance," said David Connerty-Marin, the spokesman for the Maine Department of Education.

On Monday, he said the department was content to allow state lawmakers to pass a resolution forcing the department to reopen the process.

He said the rule change was the result of a monthslong process that involved multiple stakeholders, including the Legislature and some of those now complaining the rule change isn't working.

"We are not going to move precipitously to make changes without allowing for some dialogue among the various stakeholder groups," Connerty-Marin said. "The way the rule-making process works, we would be under such a tight time frame as an agency we would have to get something in within the next couple of weeks."

A legislative process, according to Connerty-Marin, would allow for more discussion and public dialogue on the change. 

Until that happens the current rule will be in effect, Connerty-Marin said.

Lawmakers, the MEA and school officials are expected to meet with Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen in the days ahead to further discuss the rule, Connerty-Marin said.

Both Saviello and Webster said they remained puzzled why the department has been reluctant to consider taking a hard look at the rule for Maine.

"This rule, which has the force of law, is preventing teachers from using their professional judgment to do what's best for all the students in their class," Webster said.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

Maine restraint law puts schools in bind

all 12.11.27 21:00 hst ?
Sounds like common sense may be in short supply in ME , too , these days
As a volunteer at our local public school system for > 7 years i used to routinely break up fights among students , many of whom were larger than some of the diminative Asian American teachers
Fighting , bullying , & foul language is wrong in any culture . Schools should maintain a safe learning environment . Lock downs need not be every week . Cops with guns in schools send the wrong message . Schools don't have to be prisons . If they are perceived as such by parents , teachers , and students something is wrong . h t h /s Dr. Dosh

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Education and Mental Health Care

As I've observed the majority of incidents such as those described in this article are not the result of bad behaviour. Teachers and administrators can usually deal with that using traditional methods. They usually involve students with serious mental health problems. These students are incapable of controlling their behaviour without the intervention of mental health professionals and/or meds. I am well aware of the limitations of our mental health care system in this state so it is not surprising that there is an effort to push mental health care for children into the school system. I don't think it belongs there. The business of school is education. Picture yourself at work with a fellow worker who on occasion blows up and destroys equipment, attacks fellow workers and bosses and shouts and disrupts the workplace and people stand around and watch and wait for him to calm himself or for the police to come. Picture this happening once a week or once a month. How well would you be concentrating on your work!. Students with mental health issues are usually in classes with other students who have learning disabilities. The constant disruptions and demands on the teacher make it even harder for them to learn. It isn't tolerance when you rob other students of their education. It's favoritism. There needs to be another solution.

Wendi Ward's picture

I like you comparison.i would

I like you comparison.i would also say that, I have friend with younger children who have felt very scared and unsafe when other children get out of control and there was not much the teacher could do but move the others to another room.

SCOTT THISTLE's picture
staff

Topic sensitivity and civil conversations

This is a sensitive subject but I would ask all of you to remember to be civil and as this story deals with children, I would suggest you use language, comments and statements you would feel comfortable with if children were to read them. Be considerate people, you can be passionate about your points without potty mouths or berating each other. If you preach about tolerance then be tolerant of others and be kind.
Thanks.

Yes... we must be "unconditionally" tolerant and kind ...

Yes. I agree. Let's be tolerant even if the petty complaints of the head teachers in the article here clearly are not tolerant ...and feel, in some obcene sense, like they have been denied the tools they think they need, such as readily available "restraints" and padded cells in grade schools for students acting out.

Give me a break. These teachers, the lot of them, have gone so long expecting society to bow down and accept just about anything they propose or ask for, that, when we don't bow down when we justly change the rules because of teacher excesses, because the teachers have become the bullies, they're outraged and scream until they're, as in this article, literally gasping out extreme examples of being victimized.

They are losing credibility ...fast.

Again, suck it up. Comply with the rules ... and behave .... yourselves.

In other words .... grow up and teach your charges. It would also be great if you could show a little leadership.

The best example of leadership is demonstrating how to be a good follower...of the law and the rule changes the rest of society made for good reason.

Oh. And, be darned glad you even have a job. There are plenty of teachers just itching to take your place ...and who won't embellish facts in making points like this bunch obviously has.

Imagine ...complaining about a 5 year old....

Get real.

Wendi Ward's picture

Umm, weren't you just told to

Umm, weren't you just told to practice tolerance, not just preach it?

FRANK EARLEY's picture

This whole scenario is so wrong.....

All I can say is let the little ones get away with everything, wouldn't want to hurt their fragile little ego's, or whatever it is their tying to protect. In the long run, you are far from helping or protecting a child from anything. When little Johny, is kicking the daylights out of little Jimmy, as long as their not in any imminent danger, don't you dare touch either one of them. If, by chance you need to actually teach them right from wrong, we're going to force you to fill out so much paper work, it will take you a week. You will also be suspended while an investigation is done. I'm sorry but we need to handle these things the "PC" way.
Fast forward ten or fifteen years. Little Johny is sitting at the defendants table while the judge is ready to render Johny's sentence for killing little Jimmy. The whole courtroom is in tears and asking the same question, what could have caused this? He was such a nice little boy. This would be a good time to go back and ask the "various professional associations", just exactly what it was, they were attempting to accomplish? Just who were they trying to protect?????????

Some teachers and parents need to go back to school...

Some are not examples of tolerance and civil responsibility, are they?

Some time, teachers and parents who bully the young deserve to be talked back to by children. Children need to be encouraged to stand up for their rights, especially when adults won't behave or do it for them.

Here, the adults seem to be, literally, ganging up on the youth ...as if the youth are the problem. They're wrong.

The children are not to blame, Frank.

It is the so-called teachers and parents, whether they want to accept it or not (and, clearly, they don't want to) that are always at fault, barring a child having a bona fide medical diagnosis.

This whole system needs a good tree shaking to get rid of the bad apples, so to speak.

For far too long, teachers have been weaseling out careers that sees them doing the minimum amount of teaching for the maximum amount of profits in terms of wages, benefits and a heck of lot of time off with no accountability for their attitudes, generally speaking.

Teach! Use alternatives to restraints now. Do something like have positive attitudes when relating with them, regardless of their behaviors. Learn the necessary skills to distract and redirect youthful energy. Let them talk in class for a half hour with each other so that they can socialize and plan more socialization with each other. Let go of your learned need to task and control them.

If you're nice to them. they'll follow you and do what you do.

It's the natural order of things. You may think, because you aren't in control, that you will be falling behind in curriculum progress, but you won't be. You'll actually be leap frogging ahead with the relationships you will build with students. They'll listen to your stories. They'll watch you crack an egg open as you explain the basics of life, a nucleus, protein plasma and protective membrane. They'll listen to your explanation of cell reproduction through cell duplication and division, the combining of cells into tissue, into organs and into complete systems, human beings, families, communities and governments.

They'll listen. But, you've got to treat them good and stop looking for and complaining about their situational faults.

In the end, you may not be suitable to be teachers. And, maybe you just need to accept that fact and get out of the way, and stop trying to change the so-called learning environment to suit yourself instead of the child. Stop talking about how you are being victimized. If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen. ...don't advocate for child restraints and powers to continue to take, all too often, brutal shortcuts to teaching.

Wendi Ward's picture

Have you ever dealt with a

Have you ever dealt with a child? Because this is laughable. It sounds like one of those people who don't have children..and say, oh no my children would never act like that, because I'd use positive reinforcement and love them into good children.
Reality check..I've raised many children and have 3 grandchildren, a degree in early childhood education as well as a degree in early childhood development. I can tell you for sure that speaking nice to children and letting them socialize at school rather than learning (FYI, the reason their at school) you end up with children who have no sense of work ethic or boundaries or rules. I can tell you right now, if you don't do your job because you need to spend some of the time your meant to be working, socializing...your boss will not give y a pat on the head and say good job Henry...here's a raise, keep up the good work! (Eye roll) spare the rod and spoil the child...spoiling is what has been happening to our children since the 90s....our future doesn't look bright it looks lazy, spoiled and their egos are so big it's hilarious.

Spitting in the face is an assault ... call the police, but...

Spitting in the face is an assault ... call the police, but do not put your hands on another human being, especially a student, except in self defense or for their own safety, and then only if deflecting, dodging or running away is not an option for you.

There were good reasons for the rule change, people.

Police are trained to deal with, negotiate and lead people who are suspected of misbehavior. Teachers are not.

That is why we pay taxes and hire police and pay them with our tax dollars to respond to such situations. Use them. They are waiting for your calls.

But, remember, it goes the other way, too. Young people or, in fact, anyone can and should call the police when they are unreasonably, physically restrained or assaulted ... i.e. the reason for the rule change.

In my view, as I have indicated previously, it seems that, instead of teacher's complaining about the rules changing, they should be exercising leadership on how to effectively implement these changes by getting the training, learning what "Unconditional Positive Response (U.P.R.)" means and posting the phone numbers for crisis and police intervention.

Intolerance ... that is all I hear .... knock it off.

Get with the program ..... you were tolerated .... its now time for you to put on your big girl panties and show some toleration of our young if you intend to continue to use the professional title of "teacher" in the community.

Wendi Ward's picture

When I went to school I

When I went to school I wasn't "tolerated" as you say. When I went to school if you got out of hand a teacher, principle and then your parents delt with you...3 different people ... 3 punishments. My teachers didnt tolerate conniptions and fights among children it ludicrist to say that it's perfectly ok for a 5 yr old to pitch a fit disrupting 6 other class rooms, and if they had called the cops, who pays for that? The parents because their child was acting like a brat or the school...or the more likely answer..tax payers. I don't get an input on how to deal with this child, yet I get to pay out of pocket for nobody dealing with her.

Also I have a brother and sister in law who are teachers and they are taught how to deal with unrulely children. Given what you've said, if teachers need URP training, then parents must need it too.

How about if people stop letting children rule the world and start making them accountable for their actions? I can tell you that my children knew by age 5 a tantrum was not exceptable behavior. Had they pitched a fit at school there would have been huge consequences at home.

Robert McQueeney's picture

In a perfect world

In a perfect world, such issues would not come to the forefront. But they do, and they have to be dealt with. I do like your perspective on assault and some other crimes committed by some of these kids. But calling the police and just standing by doing nothing until they arrive may not always be the best thing in the world.

Typically, if a couple of boys are fighting, one of them will start to get the better of the other and just start to pummel him, causing serious injury if left to just continue. Must a teacher wait until it gets that bad to intervene? What is the response time for the police to the school? What are we supposed to do now? Have a couple officers stationed at every school, ready to react to the inevitable daily occurrences? Do we really want to institute a police state?

I feel you underestimate our teachers and their abilities. Any parent of more than one child has had to break up squabbles and children spitting at each other, and fights and has some practical real world experience. To say they are unqualified because they do not have formal training is just about an insult to them. For example, if someone has not had formal training in.... anything..... say food preparation and eating, are they not qualified to feed themselves?

I'm suggesting that teachers should be allowed to intervene, for the good of all students, and be able to remove disruptive children immediately. If it is bad enough, then call the police and get them there, but they are minutes away at best. Allow teachers to teach in a proper environment. And give them back the ability to do so.

Gerald Weinand's picture

My guess is that you have

My guess is that you have never taught in a public school, nor live with someone who has. And for the record - some of Maine's teachers are men.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

This will all get

This will all get straightened out....when a kid or a teacher gets killed or crippled. Then, the lawyers will take over.

Robert McQueeney's picture

He said another incident on

He said another incident on the first day of school involved a 5-year-old who refused to enter the kindergarten classroom. The child was throwing a tantrum in the hallway and was allowed to continue doing so, because the child was not a danger to others or himself. The child was, however, disruptive to the other six classrooms in the area as teachers attempted to hold classes.

So we have a 5 year who has complete control over 6 classrooms. How in the world is a learning institution supposed to function with these kinds of restrictions placed upon them? These kind of issues were forecast when these laws were first discussed by administrators with teachers. Obviously, they were not pessimistic doom and gloom concerns. The legislature needs to go to work on this one, and quick.

Wendi Ward's picture

This is so ridiculous! This

This is so ridiculous! This is exactly why we have a nation of young adults and children who are so freaking spoiled and entitled, they feel its beneath them to act in an appropriate way. When I was in school, if you were 5 and threw a tantrum, something most 5 yr olds didnt do, because when they threw a tantrum at home there were consequences early on, so by 5 the child knew it was not acceptable behavior. If you were older and caused a disruption you went to the office, where you waited to see the principle and your parents were called, so you got some kind of punishment at school and then at home you got punished again, let me say that once is usually all it took to learn to behave! I remember in jr high sometimes one of the boys would get out of line, and one of the male teachers would take them into the hall, and have a talk that usually included a threat, and that was the end of it...good lord now you disrupt a child pitching a fit, and your the problem. Lord forbid you call the parents because then whatever happened was either your fault or someone in the classrooms fault, definitely not their child. Here is why our young adults have no idea how to behave and the children coming up are even worse. They have no respect at all. It's ridiculous!

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