Imagine the scene. It actually happened. The superintendent was walking through the school cafeteria. As he did, he spotted a student rising from his seat with a knife. A former gridiron star, the superintendent claims that he “drank from the fountain of youth” and launched himself like a middle linebacker to take the knife-toting youth to the ground.
Imagine another scene. It, too actually, happened. On a Wednesday night in a Yonkers, New York school, a 16-year-old named Corey was on the basketball court when he wasn’t supposed to be. The youngster resisted the directive and school officials decided he needed to be restrained to be brought under control. Six staff members piled on him after taking him to the ground. Moments later, the student went into cardiac arrest and died. An ABC News special that ran last week tells Corey’s story.
The ABC News special told other stories that demonstrated the clear need for action to protect students from harmful and dangerous practices by schools. Christopher, a 9-year-old Kentucky boy with special needs was placed in a duffle bag as part of the classroom management plan. Kentucky Protection and Advocacy and the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities have outlined other cases, including one where Eddie was kept in a converted broom closet for hours at a time. (For more information, see this document from the Kentucky Department of Education: Adopting the Restraint and Seclusion Regulation to Ensure the Safety of Teachers, Staff and Students in Kentucky Schools)
The Kentucky State Board of Education has passed a set of regulations around the broad category of seclusion and restraint. And those regulations are now under consideration by the Kentucky General Assembly. These regulations have no bearing on the first scene I described. They in no way will hinder school administrators’ abilities to react to behavioral crises and to take firm and immediate and forceful action. But the regulations have everything to do with preventing those other scenes.
And yet school district administrators have launched a full bore effort to negate the board’s thoughtful move forward. Really? I can’t decide. Do administrators think that they should be able to use brutal and inappropriate physical measures? Or, is this just another in the litany of instances in which the K-12 establishment leaders are more concerned with adult political muscle than the interests of kids?
There is nothing – not a thing – in the regulations that would weaken proven student management techniques. There is nothing – not a thing – in the regulations that would make schools less safe. But there is everything about these regulations that will protect kids from schools employing disciplinary measures that range from careless to sanctioned bullying.
I have five grandkids. Two are already in public schools. I want these regulations in effect for them. I want Kate and Rileigh to attend schools that are safe. But I also want them to attend schools that reflect a climate and a commitment which protects their more vulnerable classmates. These regulations will give those two Brooks kids – and every kid in Kentucky –schoolhouses that are more compassionate, safer and better places to learn.
So what can you do to ensure that we don’t have a Yonkers moment in the Commonwealth? What can you do to make duffle bags and lock-up isolation closets disappear from the trick bag of Kentucky schools?
First, become informed. Watch the ABC News report on restraint and seclusion that aired last week. Read the stories compiled by Kentucky Protection & Advocacy and the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities. And read the materials compiled by the Kentucky Department of Education.
Secondly, send some props. This is a case in which the State Board of Education, the Department of Education and Commissioner Terry Holliday have taken a righteous stand for kids. Here you can find the information on board members and their contact information. And here is information about the commissioner. Let them know you appreciate their smarts and their courage for tackling these issues.
Finally, take action with the General Assembly. These regulations will be considered by the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee at a hearing on Monday, December 17 at 10:00 a.m. That means Kentucky students are counting on Sen. Joe Bowen [Co-Chair], Rep. Johnny Bell [Co-Chair], Sen. David Givens, Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, Sen. Joey Pendleton, Rep. Robert R. Damron, Rep. Danny Ford, and Rep. Jimmie Lee to pass these regulations. Contact these lawmakers before December 17 and let them know that these regulations will actually make schools safer – that these regulations reflect both a needed ethical commitment and set of smart school practices.
We need your voice to protect kids.