I heard my son screaming from the Harpswell School's isolation room

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HARPSWELL – A mother from Topsham is upset and worried about child safety at Harpswell Community School, as her son was placed in the school's isolation room after they became "unmanageable".

Kendele Ouellette said that her eldest son was suffering from attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder and was suffering from anxiety. Her medications had to be changed during the 2017-2018 school year, which made her even more difficult, she said. Ouellette said his son was also suffering from asthma.

"I had a call from the school to pick him up (in September). They said that he was simply unmanageable, "Ouellette said. "As soon as I opened the school doors, I heard my son screaming and crying," Let me get out of here, it's too hot. I can not breathe.

It was an exceptionally hot day, and she remembers finding a staff member back at the door. From behind, "I could hear my son screaming," said Ouelette. "I have never heard of a play of this kind in my life."

Ouellette said that when she had taken her 9-year-old son out of the room, he was crying, his clothes were soaked with sweat and his face was red beetroot.

"It took me hours to cool it down," she said.

She felt that the district had endangered her child's life and violated the policy. She said she met with school officials to discuss the incident and that the school agreed to add more ventilation and to sensitize the parents to the solitary confinement room. , she said.

Isolation rooms are common in school buildings, but they are only used in emergency situations, said Bob Lucy, Interim Superintendent of School Administrative District 75.

"I think we consider it as a last resort, and it is used only in case of emergency when the behavior of a student presents a risk of harm or injury to him. or for others, "he said. "The safety of students and staff is always the top priority."

Lucy stated that confidentiality issues prevented her from discussing with students in particular. However, he said the district's policies and procedures were consistent with the Maine Department of Education's Chapter 33 rule governing physical coercion and isolation. Staff are trained to use these measures.

"The isolation can be achieved in any part of a school building with sufficient light, heat, ventilation and a normal room height," says chapter 33. "If a Specific room is designated as isolation room, it must have a minimum area of ​​60 square feet … contain an unbreakable observation window in a wall or door, and do not contain any hazardous materials or materials. objects with which a student could self-inflict bodily injury. "

Lucy stated that the Harpswell Community School isolation room measured 64 square feet and met these specifications. The room has been used a total of seven times in 2017-2018, but Lucy has not been informed of the frequency of use of the room this school year.

He echoed this question when asked if the school district was considering making improvements to the room, such as an additional breakdown.

"The spaces we use for isolation in the district are all in accordance with the law and state regulations," he said. "They have the square footage, the proper ventilation, everything in the bylaws, including a window in a wall or a door that can monitor a student. And the space does not contain elements with which the student could hurt himself or another student, so it is in accordance with the letter of the law. "

When asked if the school was working to educate parents about the play, Lucy responded that the district's restraint and isolation policies were online.

In addition, "if we have to use coercion or isolation, parents are informed. We adhere to the Maine law regarding the use of physical restraint and solitary confinement and we have adopted policies that comply with the law, "he said.

Lucy declined to specify how the isolation room is used or if the school would honor letters from parents wishing to prohibit the use of the room to their child.

Maine schools are allowed to take some "restraint and isolation" measures, said Sarah Adkins, student aid coordinator of the state education department, but only as an emergency response when the behavior of a student presents a risk of injury or harm to the student. or others, she said. There must be a clear risk of injury, she said.

"If a 5-year-old hits a 200-kilogram man in the leg, is it harmful? Probably not, said Adkins. "But if a 200-pound high school student hits a 120-pound woman, there will likely be serious injuries."

In an emergency, appropriate restraints can be used and students can be "isolated" in any part of the building that meets the standards of the Department of Education.

"I do not think anyone wants to isolate and retain children," said Adkins. "However, on the basis of training of staff and understanding of the child's behavior, it may be appropriate to properly retain a student or use an isolation room."

Schools are instructed to "never, ever lock the door" when using isolation, Adkins said. "However, you can close the door because if the student is not alone and he goes out, he can hurt others."

Ouellette recently discovered that her 7-year-old son, who was suffering from emotional problems, had also been placed in the isolation room this school year. She became aware when her therapist called her to voice her concerns about a room in which he was being installed.

"She said (my son) call it the torture room, he hates it in there," said Ouellette.

If Ouellette agrees that her son can not disrupt his classes, she feels that the staff is not doing enough to calm him by other means. The school is required to provide incident reports of contention or isolation that it expects to receive.

Now she sent the school a letter of non-consent and shared her story on social media. While she had chosen to keep her kids at Harpswell School this year after moving her family to Topsham, Ouellette said she could transfer her youngest son to the school. Williams-Cone School.

There is a local complaint process and parents can then file a complaint with the state, which can then initiate an investigation. Ouellette said she did not decide how she would proceed.

"I'm trying to educate people about this room and how we can make it safe," she said.

Bath's Regional Academic Unit 1 uses isolation rooms in its Behavior Assistance Programs, which may be a designated room or place consistent with its policies. It is used sparingly, said Justin Keleher, director of district special services.

"We always emphasize the use of de-escalation strategies before the physical intervention," he said.

According to the 2015-2016 civil rights data collection, more than 36,000 students nationwide were isolated during emotional and behavioral episodes during the 2015-2016 school year. The use of isolation rooms will soon be examined at the federal level.

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced on January 17 that the US Department of Education would launch an initiative to combat the inappropriate use of restraint and school seclusion.

"This initiative will enable us not only to support children with disabilities, but also to provide technical assistance to meet the professional learning needs of those who, within the system, serve students," said DeVos. "The only way to ensure the success of all children with disabilities is to meet the needs of every child with a disability. This initiative continues this important mission. "

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