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Too Hard to Handle


With the number of special education students in public schools higher than ever, totaling 600,000 students in New York City alone, many parents worry that school staff members may not be properly trained to handle behavior problems, reports The New York Times. Dr. John Miller, father of a 12 year-old boy who has Asperger’s syndrome, said that teachers restrained his son for 20 minutes on at least one occasion, and the boy often refused to go to school because “he thought the school was trying to kill him.” In response to the alleged mishandled restraint, the Millers are suing the district for the cost of therapy.

The Millers’ case points to a general concern for teachers and parents of children with developmental and psychiatric problems over when and under what circumstances should physical restraint and seclusion be used. Carrying out the appropriate course of discipline can be quite the challenge for the classroom teacher, who is responsible for the safety of all 30 children, says Patti Ralabate, a special education expert at the National Education Association.

While federal law requires that schools develop individual behavioral plans for each student, no standards exist to decide when physical restraint and seclusion is appropriate. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, recently adopted tighter restraining standards, while California, Iowa, and New York are in the process of doing the same.


I'm a special education specialist and write the Individual Education Plans for students who need extra support. I am very concerned about the ability of teachers to support some of the more needy kids in the system and the general safety of everyone, students and teachers alike.

There's really much more that I'd like to say but it's too much to say in a comment box so if it's not too much trouble I'm inviting you to go to my blog to read the article I wrote here

Sorry- the link to my article didn't appear in the earlier comment. Here it is- http://www.teachersatrisk.com/2008/05/02/twenty-percent-of-kids-sitting-in-classrooms-are-mentally-ill/

Please just copy and paste it in your browser. Thanks

I have been a special education teacher for 9 years. I worked in a school that was for students with behavior disorders as well as a multitude of other labels and issues. Restraint unfortanately is required in some enviornments with some students. I have seen kids take things so far that staff and the student can easily get hurt (and I have seen many cases where they have). I would dare to say that if the restraint only occured once that it is not the first resort that the staff uses to control behavior. As a teacher who deals with some extreme behaviors, it was always a last resort to restrain a student. The process is also followed by a reconnection and reestablishment of rapport with the student and the adults involved in the incident. I do not feel as thought I have been the cause for students to seek counseling for keeping everyone safe(including the child). I even feel as though that people need take a realistic look at how students and adults treat school staff and the general lack of respect or even the thought that we deeply care about the students is in the real world. If we didnt love the students why would we choose that as a career and tolerate things that we must to continue to teach.

SpEdTeacher: You might want to take a look at the "behavior plan" that was included in the NYTimes article. It has some good points--it includes drawings and other graphic helps (arrows), which tells me that there was some intent that the student understand the plan. The problem that I see is that the behavior ("following the rules") that is desired doesn't appear to have any support. The student is expected to follow the rules in the classroom (by being attentive to the teacher). If the student "chooses" not to follow the rules, then he may walk in a designated place until calm (and then return to the class). If he does not "choose" to "follow the rules" (in this case, apparently the rule is to be calm) then he is to sit in a chair until calm (now "following the rules" consists of sitting in a chair). If he complies with this rule for a designated time, then he may return to the classroom. If he "chooses" not to follow the rules, then he is to demonstrate calm by ("following the rule" of)lying on a mat until calm. Apparently the restraint occured in forcing the student to lie on the mat until calm.

So a behavior that apparently would have begun with being inattentive to the teacher in class, was effectively and systematically escalated through a hierarchy of increasingly complex rules until the child "had to be" restrained. Now, I will grant that the "inattentive behavior" might have included all kinds of things, some of which might have been dangerous.

But the plan suffers from ascribing all behaviors to a free will (formation of intent) that is not altogether present in young children, even if they are emotionally and developmentally healthy. In a student with the possibility of learning or emotional difficulties, this may be particularly undeveloped or inhibited.

Without knowing the child, or the classroom, it is hard to know exactly what they were dealing with on a regular basis. Was it a heightened frustration level due to academic struggles? Was it a lack of social facility? Was there a pattern of misperceptions regarding the actions of other students? Did the student engage in regular behaviors over which he had limited control (tapping, utterances, wandering)? Each of these might be supported by a behavior plan, which ought to include some environmental changes (teaching appropriate responses via role play, providing alternate responses to choose from, provision of a "safe" space or adult). What we see (despite the really excellent graphic work) is a set of escalating consequences for a violating a fairly vague set of desired classroom behaviors.

I am personally torn between my knowledge that this school sytem actually advanced beyond much of what I have seen, and the knowledge that they still have far to go. The use of restraint--while sometimes a valid tool--in this case seems to be the indication of a problem.

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Recent Comments

  • Anonymous: SpEdTeacher: You might want to take a look at the read more
  • Special Education Teacher: I have been a special education teacher for 9 years. read more
  • Elona Hartjes: Sorry- the link to my article didn't appear in the read more
  • Elona Hartjes: I'm a special education specialist and write the Individual Education read more




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