Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
Some employees at Portsmouth City Schools this week are participating in passive restraint training required by the state of Ohio to teach them safe and appropriate ways to react to an aggressive student. However, several members of the Autism Project of Scioto County are opposing the state’s program, concerned that passive restraint has historically been used incorrectly and could harm a student.
Charles Kemp, special education supervisor at Portsmouth City Schools, said the program has been offered to staff at Portsmouth City School for at least the 10 years that he has been there, and is offered at many other schools in the county also.
“As part of the new law with restraint seclusion, we wanted to make sure we had a number of folks who really understood what can and cannot be done and also had the training and were very clear on what to do,” Kemp said. “The biggest part of the training really is to keep from getting to a restraint or seclusion type setting or situation. We spend a good bit of time talking about the staff’s response to a student who is losing control.”
Kemp explained that a physical response is the last resort and used only when a student is in danger of hurting themselves or other students. Instead, the staff is taught to diffuse a situation by speaking calmly and thinking clearly.
“Say you have a student for instance that comes in and they seem fine, and then you ask them to do something and they stand up and shove the desk and they’re like, ‘I’m not doing your stupid work.’ Your response — the staff’s response at that point — either de-escalates or escalates the situation,” Kemp said. “So we spend a lot of time talking through about what should my response be at that point? I’m going to remain calm. I’m going to use a quiet voice. I’m going to clearly state my expectations. What I need the student to do, what I want them to do, to help bring that student back to what they call rational thinking.”
If that doesn’t work, then physical restraint might be necessary. Kemp said the biggest part of physical restraint is protecting the student from himself. Self-defense is not a component of the training.
“If I’m defending myself, now I’ve stepped out of the role of being one who is being passive,” Kemp said. “That could mean that I would have to aggressive, and that’s never acceptable.
“If the student is in danger of hurting themselves, the staff has been trained to seek help. In each of our buildings it’s our goal to train teams who would respond, whereby one person would kind of take charge and facilitate what needs to take place and other people would be responders. The goal is always to keep the student up on their feet, and to always maintain their hands and their feet so they can’t harm themselves or others.”
But several members of the Autism Project of Scioto County reportedly are worried that passive restraint is being used too quickly against students, and not just a last resort as it is intended.
“Myself, I’m highly against it. I’m one of those people that will take a child and redirect them and redirect their thoughts by changing the subject then walking them out of the situation,” said Mike Bell, a member of the Autism Project of Scioto County. “My concern is a child being hurt. My concern is a child being fearful of going to school. A lot of children with autism, if they ever get passive restraint utilized on them, that’s a thing they will never forget. They probably never, ever will go back to that school because in their eyes they’ve been hurt.”
Bell said there was one instance, several years ago, involving a non-verbal special needs child attending a Scioto County school. He said that child was waving his hands around, and the teacher had to physically restrain him. The incident, he said, was all caught on video tape, and the parents have transferred the student to Scioto County Board of Developmental Disabilities Vern Riffe School. Another incident involved a special needs child in a lunchroom, who became agitated when the caregiver stepped away, and that child was forcibly restrained by staff rather than retrieving the caregiver to calm the child.
In each of those cases, Bell said the staff utilized restraint too quickly or incorrectly and only made things worse.
Kemp said he understands why some people are concerned about the passive restraint program.
“I think historically (this program) has had a lot of abuse. Even to the point of death in our state. Particularly in institutional settings,” Kemp said. “In places where it has not been used properly, students have been put in prone restraints, students have been put in positions where their breathing is reduced to the point they even pass out. Any of us would get upset at those kind of measures being taken with any student.”
Since that has happened, he assures, the program has fallen under scrutiny and has been thoroughly reviewed and revised by the state of Ohio. Now whenever restraint is necessary, it must be immediately reported to the school administration and the child’s parent or guardian, and reportedly annually to the Ohio Department of Education.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.