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Don't Use Martial Arts to Restrain Students, Kentucky Ed. Chief Tells Schools

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Kentucky's highest education official sent cease and desist letters to the state's school districts this week, forbidding them from using Aikido, a form of Japanese martial arts, to restrain students.

That's because the technique puts students in physical positions banned by state policy, the letter said.

Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt made his order in response to concerns that staff at about five school districts, including the Jefferson County school district, had been trained in or started using a technique called Aikido Control Training to physically restrain students, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

Pruitt recently committed to investigating underreporting of restraint and seclusion in the 101,000-student Jefferson County district which includes Louisville, my colleague Christina Samuels reported. That district had already phased out the use of Aikido Control Training before Pruitt's letter, the paper reports.

From the Courier-Journal's report about the order to stop using the martial arts method:

"It  also follows concerns recently raised by members of a state oversight panel on child abuse that the method can result in injuries including broken bones...

Pruitt said the Kentucky Department of Education's main concern with the training was that it includes prone or supine restraint techniques. A prone restraint is where a student is held in a face-down position and pressure is applied to the body to keep the student in that position; a supine restraint is the same thing, but with the student lying in a face-up position.

Some have suggested that the use of prone and supine restraint techniques increase the risk of harm to those being restrained, in part because inadvertent pressure could cause breathing or other issues. Several states, including Kentucky, have banned the use of such techniques in schools."

Local news station WAVE talked to an Aikido Control Training instructor who defended the training, saying educators weren't instructed in holds that violate state laws on student restraint policies. He also drew a distinction between Aikido as a martial art and Aikido Control Training.

Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

But, the Courier-Journal reports, "Dr. Melissa Currie, head of Pediatric Forensic Medicine at the University of Louisville, who reviews cases of injuries to children from suspected abuse, said her office has examined several cases of injuries, primarily broken bones, that she said resulted from the use of Aikido Control Training in Jefferson County schools."

Physical Restraint of Public School Students

Physical restraint and seclusion of students in public schools is more common than many people realize, though school staff use a variety of techniques and methods beyond Aikido Control Training.

Nationwide, more than 100,000 students were placed in seclusion, involuntary confinement, or were physically restrained at school during the 2013-14 academic year, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights. That included more than 67,000 students with disabilities served by IDEA, who represented 12 percent of all students but a whopping 67 percent of those restrained or secluded at school, the data show. Boys, particularly those who are black, multiracial, American Indian, and Alaska Native, are disproportionately restrained and secluded, according to the data.

Many states have passed laws or policies in recent years to limit use of restraints in schools, including Kentucky, Samuels reported.

"In 2013, Kentucky adopted rules that said students were not to be restrained or secluded in school unless they are a threat to themselves or others. Parents are also supposed to be notified of any use of restraint or seclusion within 24 hours.

But how well Kentucky districts are following that policy has come into question. 

For example, in May, the district settled for $1.75 million with a 16-year-old student whose thighs were broken when he was restrained in 2014. The student, who has autism, spent several weeks in rehabilitation for his injuries, the newspaper reported. Three separate investigations did not find evidence of abuse or mistreatment, but a state panel that investigates child abuse in the state has recently recommended that officials reopen the investigation.

Also, in 2015, the ACLU sued a different Kentucky district for handcuffing a 3rd grader, which was caught on video. That case is still pending."

Further reading on physical restraint of students at school:

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