LEWISTON — While the Portland School Department reported 46 therapeutic restraints last year, and the South Portland School Department, with its on-site day treatment center, reported 63 restraints, the Lewiston School Department says its numbers are well over 100 restraints per year.
"It really depends on how you define and record restraints," said newly appointed Special Education Director George Veilleux, who consulted with Assistant Special Education Director Jackie Pare extensively before agreeing to be interviewed. Veilleux has been employed in a variety of positions, including as a special education instructor, in the Lewiston School Department for 30 years and took over from retiring Special Education Director Mel Curtis last week.
Veilleux said Lewiston runs a program specifically for students with emotional disabilities, which is the primary contributor to the number of restraints done at the school.
He said all the special education staff are trained in the therapeutic crisis intervention program, run by Cornell University, which teaches them how to de-escalate situations before restraints are required, and, then if a restraint is required, how to do it safely. The staff must be re-certified each year.
Veilleux said prone restraints, which were shown by a Government Accountability Office report to be dangerous, were part of the training program, but were not something that generally happened in Lewiston. They are allowed, however, under the school's restraint policy.
Some of the school's special education students do have therapeutic restraints included in their individual education plans.
"When it is a part of a student's IEP, it is discussed with the parents. The plan is more detailed," Veilleux said.
The district's policy, which was last updated in 2002, includes specific language encouraging instructors to "use the least amount of physical contact that is required to bring behavior under control" and says that the restraints "should be implemented by persons who have successfully completed an appropriate training program." Veilleux said most restraints in Lewiston are with students in primary grades.
"They're almost nurturing. They're more of a reminder (for the students). It really falls into the category of a hug," he said.
Over the years, Veilleux said, there have been some parents who have requested their children not be restrained at school, and that the school has respected that request.
Lewiston also places approximately 80 special education students out of district at a variety of specialized schools. These types of placements are typically paid for by the school department and the child's insurance.