Members of the Columbia School Board’s policy committee Monday continued discussions on two contentious issues: when teachers can restrain students and when parents can record teachers. But it’s not clear when either might be heading to a vote by the full board.
The policy discussion on use of restraint in schools comes as the Columbia School District is facing a lawsuit over the seclusion and restraint of a kindergarten student. Andrew Hirth, the attorney representing the family, said the case is proceeding after a judge ruled against the district’s motion to dismiss it. No trial date has been set yet.
Michelle Baumstark, the district’s spokesperson, said the proposed policy changes are not related to the lawsuit, but stem from new recommendations by the Missouri School Boards’ Association.
Baumstark said restraint, isolation and seclusion are used when students pose a danger to themselves or others and can happen on a regular basis with some special needs children if outlined in their special education intervention plans as a support or behavior intervention. The school district’s seclusion, isolation and restraint policy describes when those measures can be used with children; it also includes requirements for training district personnel and notifying parents.
Schools already are required to notify parents or guardians, either in writing or verbally, the same day their child has been restrained, isolated or secluded. School officials are discussing how soon the district would be required to provide a fuller, written report. The draft policy proposes that it be provided within 10 days. But during the policy meeting, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman proposed giving the district leeway to take more than 10 days, “if an extension is needed.”
Steve Calloway, a community member of the committee, said that while the policy specifies “least restrictive” methods should be used, it doesn’t specify which methods were considered least restrictive. He suggested adding a range of methods organized from least to most restrictive and noting which methods are never used.
Stiepleman said he would request a statewide definition to add rather than writing a Columbia-specific one.
Michelle Ribaudo, one of about five community members who attended the meeting, said she appreciated Calloway’s comments and agreed that more specifics are needed about most and least restrictive methods.
“I also think that the impression that seclusion and restraint is not used very often is not the case. I think it’s used a lot more,” she said, adding that she’s been seeing pictures of bruised kids. “It is used more often than it should be.”
Ribaudo also said that the Missouri School Boards’ Association recommends a written report within five days. She criticized the 10-day timeline for written reports and said she hopes it changes before the policy is finalized.
“I think that’s too long when kids have had such a traumatic experience. Yes, the parents are notified that day, but you want to know the details,” she said.
Ribaudo said she attended the meeting in her capacity as secretary of Missouri Disability Empowerment. She is also president of the Columbia, MO Special Education PTA and the parent of three children in Columbia Public Schools. She is also watchdogging the other contentious issue that was briefly discussed at Monday’s policy meeting: the district’s policy on recording meetings with teachers, something that is currently prohibited without special permission. A number of community members spoke in favor of allowing recording at the June school board meeting.
Her desire for a change in that policy arises from personal experience, Ribaudo said. Some things discussed in a meeting about her child, she explained, didn’t make it into the written plan. She believes a recording of the meeting could have prevented the discrepancy.
At the policy committee meeting, Stiepleman said the Board of Education is continuing to gather input from the public and teachers and had not yet set the September meeting agenda.