Saturday, May 09, 2009

MA: Restraining of students questioned

"Why not let disruptive kids just mess up everybody else's education?" seems to be the attitude below. Disruptive kids should have classes of their own where they can be professionally handled rather than having them imposed on everyone else. Requiring teachers to be semi-psychiatrists is just absurd. But that's Massachusetts, where minority rights trump majority rights every time

Sometimes it is a child with a behavioral problem, flailing her arms, hitting anyone who comes near her. Or it could be a teenager, threatening to physically hurt a classmate. Or a fistfight that breaks out between two feuding junior high boys. Each day in Massachusetts schools, teachers are faced with the daunting question of whether to cross that barrier and physically restrain any students who are threatening to hurt either themselves or others. Too often, advocates say, teachers are making the wrong decision.

With a surge in the number of students with behavioral issues, and a teacher corps that is on edge because of increasing school violence, the question of whether and how to physically restrain students has become the subject of growing controversy in Massachusetts and will be the subject of a hearing in Congress in coming weeks.

Since 2001, when school districts were required to start reporting the most extreme cases, schools have reported more than 900 cases of restraining students that resulted in injury or lasted for an extended period of time.

Advocates worry that special education students will be especially susceptible to discipline, and question the integrity of a system that relies on self-reporting. They believe many schools do not follow the reporting requirement and accuse the state of not properly monitoring them.

The concerns reflect a national debate over whether school personnel are too quick to restrain students they deem unruly, resulting in physical or psychological injury. Critics say schools have failed to properly train teachers, leaving them ill equipped to handle the growing number of children who physically act out or are in emotional distress. Staffing shortages, because of budget cuts, are also compounding the problem, they say.

In response to those concerns - highlighted in a report this winter by the National Disability Rights Network, an advocacy group - the US House Committee on Education and Labor will hold hearings on developing restrictions on when students can be restrained. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is preparing a report. "This has become an increasing problem in schools, particularly as schools cut back on teachers," said Richard Robison, executive director Federation for Children with Special Needs, an advocacy group based in Boston. "Teachers get frustrated and can't deal with everything. What happens is teachers revert to using restraints illegally or inappropriately."

Under rules adopted by the state education board in 2001, school districts must receive parental permission before restraining students, unless they pose an imminent threat of harming themselves or others. The regulations call for only physically restraining a student, except in cases where a physician has explicitly authorized a chemical or mechanical restraint and a parent approves the use in writing. One popular mechanical device is a Rifton chair, which is designed to help children sit still; it sometimes comes with straps.

The rules also prohibit physically confining a student alone in a room without access to a staff member. Schools only need to report to the state a restraining that results in an injury or lasts for more than 20 minutes. The state is then required to conduct an investigation, which can range from a desk review of the case to a site visit.

When passed, state education officials and other parents expected the regulations would curb the restraint of students because training would include techniques to quell a situation before it gets out of control.

Only in rare cases does the department find that a school acted inappropriately, according to state education officials, who defended their monitoring efforts and regulations for restraining students, including teacher training requirements. "We investigate every report we receive," said Marcia Mittnacht, the state's director for special education who drafted the regulations on restraining students. "I have no evidence that suggest schools are quick to restrain."

North Reading is embroiled in a dispute over the restraining of a 3-year-old autistic boy three years ago. On Feb. 8, 2006, a North Reading elementary school teacher thought he was too disruptive in a preschool classroom. As the boy cried hysterically, she strapped him into a chair designed to help special-needs children sit still and put him into a dark closet-sized room, according to a lawsuit filed this winter by the parents in Middlesex Superior Court. Then she walked away, shutting the door behind her, leaving the boy alone.

The boy's parents did not give permission for the J.T. Hood School to restrain their child, their lawyer said. They do not know how long their child was restrained in a Rifton chair. Another teacher freed him from the closet-sized room, according to the lawyer. "He's had night terrors," said Sean T. Goguen, a Woburn lawyer representing the family, who asked that their son not be identified. "At the time the incident happened, he couldn't talk and couldn't convey the experience to his parents. . . . It doesn't seem right to me that a 3-year-old boy has to go to a therapist because of someone else's actions."

The state education department ultimately found that the teacher inappropriately restrained the child after the boy's parents - and not the school district - notified the department about the incident, according to an Aug. 22, 2006, letter the state sent to the school superintendent. The teacher never received training on restraining because she had a medically excused absence on the day it took place and should have made up the training before returning to the classroom, according to the letter.

In an interview, the district's superintendent, David Troughton, declined to comment about the case, but did speak in general about the district's philosophy on restraining students and its policy, which was adopted by the School Committee shortly after the passing of the new state regulations. "Restraints should be used with extreme caution and only in emergencies when other less intrusive actions have been tried," Troughton said. "You don't use a physical restraint as a means of punishment. It should only be used in clear situations where the safety of a child is at stake."

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said he believes school administrators and teachers need the authority to restrain students to maintain order in their schools when certain situations escalate, such as a fight or a student who intends to use a weapon or has a violent emotional outburst. "Sometimes it's a very close call," Koocher said. "If a student is accidentally hurt while being restrained, you can have lots of complaints.


Unruly pupils and rise in attacks drive Scottish teachers to despair

Teachers have been driven to “despair” by growing indiscipline in Scottish classrooms, being unable to exclude unruly pupils and plagued by constant low-level disruption, it was claimed last night. One trade union leader said that there was frustration within the profession at the apparent drive to keep problem children in mainstream education at all costs. Another representative said that stronger guidance should be provided to determine when such pupils should be expelled.

They spoke out following a Holyrood debate, called by the Scottish Conservatives, in which the Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said that the rising numbers of armed attacks in schools meant it was “little wonder that many in the teaching profession are in despair about what can be done”. She said that the increasing problem was consuming “more and more” of teachers’ time. Figures released earlier this year showed that physical attacks with a weapon increased from 286 in 2006-07 to 366 in 2007-08 and, that in the last academic year there were 39,717 exclusions.

Keith Brown, the Schools Minister, said that this constituted an 11 per cent decline on the previous year but backed moves by the previous Labour-Lib Dem administration to devolve decision-making on exclusions to head teachers.

The SNP Administration has been condemned by opposition politicians for its record on education and its failure to meet its manifesto pledges to reduce class sizes, increase teacher numbers and improve school buildings.

Following yesterday’s debate, Margaret Smith, of the Lib Dems, claimed that these “broken promises” were “hampering progress on tackling indiscipline in our schools”.

Earlier this year, a Dundee teacher, Mike Barile, was convicted of assault for grabbing a 15-year-old pupil and pinning another to a wall after they verbally abused him. Union leaders said yesterday that teachers were being forced to deal with insults and violence as well as insidious low-level misbehaviour.

Jim Docherty, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, agreed there was despair among teachers and said that the situation had been aggravated by a wish at both local and national levels of government to make mainstream education more “inclusive”. He said this meant that problem children were no longer being removed to dedicated facilities. “Specialist units for pupils who are socially, emotionally and behaviourally disturbed are at least part of the answer,” he said. He urged local authorities to produce more robust guidelines for when a pupil should be expelled.

Ken Cunningham, of the School Leaders Scotland union, agreed that there should be more central guidance — but insisted that heads should retain decision-making powers. He said that it was an exaggeration to describe teachers as despairing — and that, while there were violent incidents and low-level disruptions, “schools are overwhelmingly safe places for youngsters to be”.

A survey out today shows that one in ten teachers has not been given any information on the Executive’s overhaul of the curriculum and more than a third have not been told how it will affect their subject. The Educational Institute for Scotland’s study found widespread ignorance of the details of the Curriculum For Excellence, which is to be introduced in 2010-11.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the union, said that it and most teachers and lecturers supported the curriculum’s aims. Yet the existence of a “substantial minority” that did not feel fully engaged with its implementation was “an issue of real concern and urgency for local authorities and the Scottish government to address”. His union was worried about the lack of funding for the curriculum and that there was insufficient time for teachers to work on it, he added.

Judith Sischy, of the Scottish Council for Independent Schools, agreed that there was “a lot of concern” among teachers about how the curriculum would affect them. While teachers were pleased to see the details of the curriculum that were published in April, those in the secondary sector were worried about how they would tie in with new qualifications such as the Scottish Baccalaureate, she said.

At its annual conference the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association is to vote on a resolution for industrial action to be considered if more funding is not provided for the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence.


Australia: Precipitous dumbing down in Queensland schools

Teachers still incompetent after completing 4-year teaching degrees -- degrees which are notoriously mere fluff. Standards were higher when teachers needed a one-year diploma only

THE maths skills of Queensland school students fell so greatly during the 1970s and 1980s that researchers have likened it to losing two years of learning. Education expert Geoff Masters has told the Bligh Government that when there was an emphasis on maths in Queensland primary schools, the state outperformed all other Australian students. However, he said the state recorded the biggest national decline in junior secondary school mathematics in the 30 years up until 1995.

Professor Masters' review also listed survey results which showed that only 44 per cent of Queensland Year 4 teachers felt "very well" prepared to teach Year 4 science. Premier Anna Bligh has backed the report, which urges the introduction of literacy and numeracy tests for teacher graduates as part of their registration.

However, that recommendation has been given a cool reception by teacher unions, who are set to begin negotiations with the Government over future pay and conditions. Professor Masters said he found many outstanding teachers, school leaders and primary schools throughout the state. However, he said the review was also told of "teachers whose own literacy skills are little better than those of the students they teach, of underperforming school leaders and of entire schools in which levels of students attendance, behaviour and achievement are unacceptably low".

He said the evidence he uncovered raised questions about the overall performance of Queensland students and the "significant disparities" between their achievement and those of interstate and overseas students. Increased support for teachers and school leaders was the key to raising reading, writing and numeracy skills in Queensland primary schools, he said.

Improved student performance would come from schools with committed teachers who knew their subjects well and school leaders who set high expectations and demanded success for all. "A theme that emerged from the review was the fundamental importance of having all players – teachers, students, parents, school leaders, system leaders – working in a consistent and mutually supportive way," Professor Masters said.

He dismissed the argument that Queensland students have 12 months less schooling than their primary school counterparts on the same year level in other states, saying the state's underperformance continued into lower secondary school.


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