Rising Rate of Students Being Physically Restrained and Secluded
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MILWAUKEE PUBLIC SCHOOL BOARD AND LEADERSHIP
Tonight, August 30th 2018, you will receive a report regarding the use of seclusion and physical restraints in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) during the 2017-2018 school year.
The numbers are honestly shocking. According to this report, MPS used seclusion or restraints against students more than 2,000 times; that is a rate of 11 seclusion or restraints a day in MPS. While students with disabilities account for only 20 percent of the total enrollment, they are 55 percent of the students subjected to seclusion or restraints. There was a 78.75 percent increase in MPS’ use of seclusion and restraint in the 2017-2018 school year compared to the 2016 - 2017 school year. In addition, the number of students restrained or secluded increased.
This is alarming.
The use of restraints and seclusion have a traumatic impact on students, as highlighted by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and numerous of other organizations. The current model implemented by Milwaukee Public Schools punishes students with disabilities for their disability and treats student misbehavior or mental health needs with violence. Seclusion and restraints offer no therapeutic or educational value. Instead, these practices can cause great harm. For example, in Texas a 14 year-old boy died after being pinned down by a teacher. In many other instances, students have suffered bruising and difficulty breathing while restrained. In extreme cases, students in other districts have even been gagged and duct-taped.
As we urged in our recently released report, From Failure to Freedom: Dismantling Milwaukee’s School-to-Prison Pipeline with the Youth Power Agenda, MPS must put an end to restraining or confining young people, especially those with disabilities. These practices are inhumane, steal young people’s freedom, and are discriminatorily applied.
There are alternatives to these harmful practices.
MPS should increase the number of licensed support professionals, including therapists, social workers, psychologists and guidance counselors. Licensed support professionals provide vital services to students including mental health services. Many students currently have limited access to guidance counselors or mental health professionals.
In addition, MPS must implement robust transformative justice practices citywide. All school personnel, along with the school community, should be trained in using restorative practices. Schools should adopt a restorative approach to the school environment. Restorative approaches should follow nationally-developed models and could include components of peer-counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health care, and behavioral contracts. Through this process, youth peers should be included in any restorative circles. Districts across the country have seen that the use of restorative approaches dramatically increases student performance, and reduces misbehavior.
We urge Milwaukee Public Schools to fully implement their commitment to mindfulness and trauma-informed practices. To do so, MPS must end the use of seclusion and restraints and work with local and national groups to develop a model to respond when a child experiences a mental health crises, while also protecting staff.
Additionally, we ask that an audit be conducted to ensure that all school staff follow the proper protocol and procedures during each use of restraints and seclusion. The audit must focus on students with disabilities to ensure their IEPs are being respected. We would additionally request this audit breakdown the race / ethnicity of students being restrained and secluded.