AUGUSTA — What started out as a good idea and was intended to protect public school students from harm has had some unintended consequences, state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said Tuesday.

Saviello is proposing an emergency legislative resolve that would clarify recent changes made to state law that govern when and how a public school student can be physically restrained by school staff. His measure directs the Maine Department of Education to revisit its rules on the use of emergency restraints.

The resolve doesn’t seek to unwind the measure passed two years ago, but it would allow teachers and other school staff to remove an agitated, disruptive or destructive student from a classroom. 

School superintendents, teachers and some parents have said the current rules are too restrictive in only allowing physical intervention when there is an imminent threat to a student’s life.

In November 2012,  school officials said there had been dozens of cases in area schools where an out-of-control child ended up disrupting an entire class, or even an entire wing of a school, for hours.

Some said the earlier law change was putting teachers and other students at risk and the Maine Education Association said it had documented cases in which teachers, who felt unable to act, were injured.

Saviello said he had heard from teachers, principals and parent volunteers in the schools in his Senate district who said the new rules weren’t working.  

He also said the students who are most commonly in need of being removed from a classroom come from all walks of life, all social and economic backgrounds, and are not primarily those with identified behavioral, emotional or intellectual disabilities.

“It’s all across the board,” Saviello said.

His resolve directs the Department of Education to amend its rules, allowing teachers to intervene and remove students from classrooms, but to not necessarily restrain them.

The measure also allows parents to give schools consent to physically restrain a child, if necessary, and to permit school staff to prevent students from injuring themselves, another student or from damaging school property. The resolve specifically directs the Department of Education to amend the rules, including allowing the physical removal of younger students by allowing teachers to pick them up and move them.

“I’m trying to bring some middle ground to this,” Saviello said.

He said he understands the intent behind the original rule changes and that it was prompted by some terrible situations in other parts of the country where students were injured or killed after being placed in restraints. 

He said school volunteers have told him that some students have already figured out the current system and are using it when they are having a bad day.

“They’ve figured out if they don’t want to do something that day, they can have a bad spell and stop it,” Saviello said. “The bottom line for me is I want teachers to teach. This is stopping them from teaching.”

The wording of the resolve was sent to the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs for additional review Tuesday.

If it is passed by the full Legislature, the resolve directs the department to take action within seven days of passage. Saviello said he is hopeful that will happen within the next few weeks.

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