Legislative changes and increased training of school staff could help to reduce the incidence of children being restrained and secluded in schools, a panel of state officials said Friday at a forum hosted by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. The roundtable discussion was organized in response to a February report by the state Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) that raised “significant concern” about the frequency with which young children with autism and other disabilities are restrained or secluded in Connecticut schools. In each of the last three years, the state Department of Education has reported about 30,000 incidents of restraints or seclusion, with autistic students the most frequently subjected to the practices. More than 1,300 children have been injured while restrained or isolated. Research has shown that the techniques can be traumatizing to children, with no evidence that they have therapeutic value, the OCA report says.
A 4-year-old boy identified with a developmental delay was physically restrained by school staff after he “threw (puzzle) pieces on the floor and across the room” while playing with a puzzle on a classroom rug. An elementary school student was put into seclusion after “swinging her coat at staff.”
These are among hundreds of incidents — deemed “emergencies” by school personnel — that warranted restraining and isolating pre-school and elementary school students in Connecticut last year. A new report by the state Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) raises “significant concern” regarding the frequency with which young children with autism and other disabilities are restrained or secluded; lapses in documentation or actual compliance with state laws; and the prevalence of “unidentified and unmet educational needs for children subject to forceful or isolative measures.”
The OCA report, released Wednesday, reviewed records of restraints and seclusions for 70 students at seven public schools and special education programs around the state, including Hartford and Fairfield County. Those students, chosen randomly, were restrained 1, 065 times and placed in seclusion 703 times. In a number of cases, the report found, there was no documentation showing that the children had received requisite behavioral evaluations, or that educators had monitored and reviewed cases of repeated seclusions, as required.
Children with autism were the most frequently subjected to restraint or seclusion in Connecticut schools in the 2012-13 school year, according to a new state report that tallied more than 33,000 incidents of physical restraint or seclusion in public schools and private special education programs.
The report from the state Department of Education shows that autism was the primary disability among special education students subject to “emergency” restraint or seclusion, with 40.4 percent of all such incidents involving a child with autism. Autism also accounted for nearly half of all cases in which children were put in seclusion as part of their individualized education plans, or IEPs. The report shows a slight decline from the previous year in the overall number of students restrained or secluded, and a drop in reports of injuries – from 840 in 2011-12, to 378 last year. But the number of serious injuries rose from eight to 10, and more than 900 reported episodes of seclusion or restraint lasted more than an hour. “This is just so disheartening,” said Shannon Knall of Simsbury, policy chair of the Connecticut chapter of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group.
Female students in New Haven began to outperform male students in the math sections of the CAPT test in the 2010-11 school year, for the first time in five years, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Education. From 2006 to 2010, the percentage of girls overall in New Haven schools who scored at or above the proficient level in math increased from 43.9 percent to 56.4 percent. While males previously had scored higher on the math test from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of boys who scored at or above proficiency in 2011 was 54.3 percent, with females surpassing them by 2.1 percentage points. The better performance by females comes as national studies have shown that the two genders learn math differently, with some educational experts expressing concerns about girls trailing behind boys in math. A 2010 study found that girls around the world are not worse at math than boys, although boys are more confident in their math abilities.
What do some of the wealthiest communities along Connecticut’s “Gold Coast” in Fairfield County have in common with the poorest towns in rural Windham County? Both counties include a growing number of families relying on federally funded free and reduced-price school meals to feed their children during tough economic times. Hunger among school-age children in Connecticut is on the rise and experts do not expect the trend to change soon given the state’s 9 percent unemployment rate and sluggish economy. “Children in Connecticut are hungry,” said Susan Maffe, president of the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut (SNACT) and director of Food Service for the Meriden public school system. “We know of children who come to school on Monday whose last meal was probably the lunch they ate at school on Friday.”
“Childhood hunger is impacting school districts across the board in urban, rural, even wealthy communities,” said Therese Dandeneau, an education consultant with the Connecticut Department of Education’s school nutrition programs.
Among the evidence of childhood hunger in Connecticut:
Thirty-four percent of all students in Connecticut’s public school districts were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch during the 2010-11 school year, up from 26.4 percent during the 2004-05 school year, according to Connecticut Department of Education statistics.