By Jane Crecco, MA, MSEd, Training and Support Specialist, Recruitment, Training and Support Center(RTSC)
When children come from chaotic backgrounds where stressors are “toxic,” their learning is disrupted. While caregivers and teachers have suspected this for some time, evidence detailed in a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics1, Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope With Trauma, confirms this belief. Brain development in young children is sensitive to toxic stress and it can harm the part of the brain that regulates reactions. If a student becomes anxious or fearful at school, feelings that are easily triggered by anything that recalls their early trauma, the brain will not be able to process any new learning.
During the years from birth to five, trauma can affect the formation of learning’s basic building blocks. In early learning settings a child may display severe tantrums, be aggressive with other children and staff, and show an inability to engage with others. For this child, these behaviors are an attempt to escape her fearful feelings but are extremely disruptive to a classroom. The reason a child feels threatened can include noise, lots of children in a small space, or over-stimulating activities. There might also be internal triggers such as the loud voice of an adult, demands made in a firm way, or smells that recall a time when abuse or neglect occurred. The child’s brain has conditioned itself to react for survival — becoming aggressive or maintaining a very low profile are two common reactions. While in this survival mode, a student’s brain cannot access the processes that result in learning.
Efforts are underway to determine the best methods for caregivers and educators of children who are or have been subjected to adverse conditions in their home or community. Experts agree the place to start is in understanding how trauma impacts behavior and learning. Safe and supportive settings that nurture positive feelings for all children increase the odds that these children will learn appropriate coping skills. In early education, the focus is on teaching emotional self-regulation alongside skill building in reading and math. For students in jeopardy of missing out on learning due to their harsh environments, they will have a chance to keep up with their peers and share the wonderful feelings of being successful at school.
By Jane Crecco, MA, MSEd – Training and Support Specialist,
Recruitment, Training and Support Center (RTSC), FCSN
When children enter first grade, perhaps the first time they have entered a structured classroom, it can be a scary event. More kids, more rules, and less time to move around and play. Try to imagine how a student feels if they are coming from a chaotic home, where food might be scarce and parents’ behaviors may be unpredictable or unsafe. These children are used to a dangerous environment where they need to be constantly ready to keep themselves safe.
It is also possible that this student does not have a stack of books by their bed and nobody to read to her/him. This child may spend more time in front of a computer or television with little practice in receptive and expressive speech. No one has provided an opportunity to develop the early skills to read body language and social cues, or develop the ability to feel empathy or remorse, because no trusting adult could teach him how these emotions look and feel. This “traumatized” student is “at-risk” and likely in jeopardy for school failure.
By first grade, typically developing children have already gained enough social and emotional skills to make their way through a school day and all its demands — riding on a crowded school bus; lining up and keeping quiet; organizing personal possessions; eating snacks and lunch with other kids in a noisy lunchroom; going out to play; and finally, returning home and knowing what must be done to get ready for the next day.
However, for children with complex childhood trauma, a lack of stimulus in their early upbringing affects their ability to regulate reactions to these common situations, which instead often appear dangerous to them. In early education especially, children with trauma have not developed the ability to tell the difference between a dangerous environment and one that is noisy and crowded, but relatively safe. These children are always on high alert. Their hyper-aroused state does not allow their brain to process new situations or new learning because it is too busy keeping itself safe.
Social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom becomes critical for these children during ages 6-12. An over-reactive child can be disruptive and sometimes dangerous to themselves or others. After these events occur, the student often feels humiliated and stigmatized. SEL can help all students learn self-awareness and self-management skills as well as build self-esteem.
It is important for family members and school professionals to recognize and understand the unique needs of these children. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has published the Guidelines on Implementing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Curricula (www.doe.mass.edu/bullying/SELguide.pdf) A quick internet search will bring up many different types of evidence-based curricula currently being rolled out throughout the country. A good place to start your search is here: www.casel.org/guide.
PHYSICAL RESTRAINT REGULATIONS
603 CMR 46.00
• Presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for initial review and
vote to solicit public comment: September 23, 2014
• Period of public comment: through November 10, 2014
• Final action by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education: December 16, 2014
603 CMR 46.00:
Prevention of Physical Restraint and Requirements If Used
46.01 Authority, Scope, Purpose and Construction
46.03 Use of Restraint
46.04 Policy and Procedures; Training
46.05 Proper Administration of Physical Restraint
46.06 Reporting Requirements
46.07 Effective Date
46.01: Authority, Scope, Purpose and Construction
(1) Authority. 603 CMR 46.00 is promulgated by the Board of Elementary and Secondary
Education pursuant to M.G.L. c. 69, § 1B, and c. 71, § 37G.
(2) Scope. 603 CMR 46.00 governs the use of physical restraint on students in publicly funded
elementary and secondary education programs, including all Massachusetts public school
districts, charter schools, virtual schools, collaborative education programs, and the school day of
special education schools approved under 603 CMR 28.09, as provided in 603 CMR 18.05(5)(h).
Educational programs in facilities operated by the Department of Youth Services, the
Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, or County Houses of Correction
shall be governed by the restraint, seclusion, and time-out requirements of such agencies.
(3) Purpose. The purpose of 603 CMR 46.00 is to ensure that every student participating in a
Massachusetts public education program is free from the use of physical restraint that is
inconsistent with 603 CMR 46.00. Physical restraint shall be used only in emergency situations
of last resort, after other lawful and less intrusive alternatives have failed or been deemed
inappropriate, and with extreme caution. School personnel shall use physical restraint with two
goals in mind:
(a) To administer a physical restraint only when needed to protect a student and/or a
member of the school community from assault or imminent, serious, physical harm; and
(b) To prevent or minimize any harm to the student as a result of the use of physical
(4) Construction. Nothing in 603 CMR 46.00 shall be construed to limit the protection afforded
publicly funded students under other state or federal laws, including those laws that provide for
the rights of students who have been found eligible to receive special education services.
Nothing in 603 CMR 46.00 precludes any teacher, employee or agent of a public education
program from using reasonable force to protect students, other persons or themselves from
assault or imminent, serious, physical harm.
As used in 603 CMR 46.00, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
Commissioner shall mean the commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary
Education appointed in accordance with G.L. c.15, §1F, or his or her designee.
Consent shall mean agreement by a parent who has been fully informed of all information
relevant to the activity for which agreement is sought, in his or her native language or other
mode of communication, that the parent understands and agrees in writing to carrying out of the
activity, and understands that the agreement is voluntary and may be revoked at any time. The
agreement describes the activity and lists the records (if any) which will be released and to
whom. In seeking parental consent, a public education program shall not condition admission or
continued enrollment upon agreement to the proposed use of any restraint.
Department shall mean the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Mechanical restraint shall mean the use of any device or equipment to restrict a student’s
freedom of movement. The term does not include devices implemented by trained school
personnel, or utilized by a student that have been prescribed by an appropriate medical or related
services professional, and are used for the specific and approved positioning or protective
purposes for which such devices were designed. Examples of such devices include: adaptive
devices or mechanical supports used to achieve proper body position, balance, or alignment to
allow greater freedom of mobility than would be possible without the use of such devices or
mechanical supports; vehicle safety restraints when used as intended during the transport of a
student in a moving vehicle; restraints for medical immobilization; or orthopedically prescribed
devices that permit a student to participate in activities without risk of harm.
Medication restraint shall mean the administration of medication for the purpose of temporarily
controlling behavior. Medication prescribed by a licensed physician and authorized by the
parent for administration in the school setting in not medication restraint.
Parent shall mean a student’s father, mother, or legal guardian or person or agency legally
authorized to act on behalf of the student in place of or in conjunction with the father, mother, or
Physical escort shall mean a temporary touching or holding, without the use of force, of the
hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, or back for the purpose of inducing a student who is agitated to walk
to a safe location.
Physical restraint shall mean direct physical contact that prevents or significantly restricts a
student’s freedom of movement. Physical restraint does not include: brief physical contact to
promote student safety, providing physical guidance or prompting when teaching a skill,
redirecting attention, providing comfort, or a physical escort.
Principal shall mean the instructional leader or headmaster of a public education school program
or his or her designee. The board of directors of a charter school or virtual school, or special
education school or program approved under 603 CMR 28.09, shall designate in the restraint
prevention and behavior support policy who will serve as principal for purposes of 603 CMR
Prone restraint shall mean a physical restraint in which a student is placed face down on the floor
or another surface, and physical pressure is applied to the student’s body to keep the student in
the face-down position.
Public education programs shall mean public schools, including charter schools, virtual schools,
collaborative education programs, and the school day of special education schools approved
under 603 CMR 28.09, as provided in 603 CMR 18.05(5)(h), and school events and activities
sponsored by such programs. The term “programs” may be used in 603 CMR 46.00 to refer to
“public education programs.” For purposes of 603 CMR 46.00, public education programs shall
not include the educational services provided within Department of Youth Services, Department
of Mental Health, Department of Public Health, and County Houses of Correction operated or
School Working Day shall mean a day or partial day that students are in attendance at the public
education program for instructional purposes.
Seclusion shall mean the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from
which the student is physically prevented from leaving. Seclusion does not include a time-out as
defined in 603 CMR 46.02.
Time-out shall mean a behavioral support strategy developed pursuant to 603 CMR 46.04(1) in
which a student temporarily separates from the learning activity or the classroom, either by
choice or by direction from staff, for the purpose of calming. During time-out, a student must be
continuously observed by a staff member. Staff shall be with the student or immediately
available to the student at all times. The space used for time-out must be clean, safe, sanitary,
and appropriate for the purpose of calming. Time-out shall cease as soon as the student has
46.03: Use of Restraint
(a) Mechanical restraint, medication restraint, and seclusion shall be prohibited in public
(b) Prone restraint shall be prohibited in public education programs except on an individual
student basis, and only under the following circumstances:
1. The student has a documented history of repeatedly causing serious self-injuries
and/or injuries to other students or staff;
2. All other forms of physical restraints have failed to ensure the safety of the
student and/or the safety of others;
3. There are no medical contraindications as documented by a licensed physician;
4. There is psychological or behavioral justification for the use of prone restraint and
there are no psychological or behavioral contraindications, as documented by a
licensed mental health professional;
5. The program has obtained consent to use prone restraint in an emergency as set
out in 603 CMR 46.03(1)(b), and such use has been approved in writing by the
6. The program has documented 603 CMR 46.03(1)(b) 1 – 5 in advance of the use of
prone restraint and maintains the documentation.
(c) Physical restraint, including prone restraint where permitted, shall be considered an
emergency procedure of last resort and shall be prohibited in public education programs
except when a student’s behavior poses a threat of assault, or imminent, serious, physical
harm to self or others and the student is not responsive to verbal directives or other lawful
and less intrusive behavior interventions, or such interventions are deemed to be
inappropriate under the circumstances.
(d) All physical restraints, including prone restraint where permitted, shall be administered in
compliance with 603 CMR 46.05.
(2) Physical restraint shall not be used:
(a) As a means of discipline or punishment;
(b) When the student cannot be safely restrained because it is medically contraindicated for
reasons including, but not limited to, asthma, seizures, a cardiac condition, obesity,
bronchitis, communication-related disabilities, or risk of vomiting;
(c) As a response to property destruction, disruption of school order, a student’s refusal to
comply with a public education program rule or staff directive, or verbal threats when
those actions do not constitute a threat of assault, or imminent, serious, physical harm; or
(d) As a standard response for any individual student. No written individual behavior plan or
individualized education program (IEP) may include use of physical restraint as a
standard response to any behavior. Physical restraint is an emergency procedure of last
(3) Limitations on use of restraint. Physical restraint in a public education program shall be
limited to the use of such reasonable force as is necessary to protect a student or another member
of the school community from assault or imminent, serious, physical harm.
(4) Referral to law enforcement or other state agencies. Nothing in these regulations prohibits:
(a) The right of any individual to report to appropriate authorities a crime committed by a
student or other individual;
(b) Law enforcement, judicial authorities or school security personnel from exercising their responsibilities, including the physical detainment of a student or other person alleged to have committed a crime or posing a security risk; or
(c) The exercise of an individual’s responsibilities as a mandated reporter pursuant to
G.L. c. 119, § 51A. 603 CMR 46.00 shall not be used to deter any individual from
reporting neglect or abuse to the appropriate state agency.
46.04: Policy and Procedures; Training
(1) Procedures. Public education programs shall develop and implement written restraint
prevention and behavior support policy and procedures consistent with 603 CMR 46.00
regarding appropriate responses to student behavior that may require immediate intervention.
Such policy and procedures shall be annually reviewed and provided to program staff and made
available to parents of enrolled students. Such policy and procedures shall include, but not be
(a) Methods for preventing student violence, self-injurious behavior, and suicide,
including individual crisis planning and de-escalation of potentially dangerous behavior
occurring among groups of students or with an individual student;
(b) Methods for engaging parents in discussions about restraint prevention and the use of
restraint solely as an emergency procedure;
(c) A description and explanation of the program’s alternatives to physical restraint and
method of physical restraint in emergency situations;
(d) A statement prohibiting: medication restraint, mechanical restraint, prone restraint
unless permitted pursuant to 603 CMR 46.03(1)(b), seclusion, and the use of physical
restraint in a manner inconsistent with 603 CMR 46.00;
(e) A description of the program’s training requirements, reporting requirements, and
(f)A procedure for receiving and investigating complaints regarding restraint practices;
(g) A procedure for conducting periodic review of data and documentation on the use of
physical restraints as described in 603 CMR 46.06(5) and (6);
(h) A procedure for implementing the reporting requirements as described in 603 CMR
(i) A procedure for making reasonable efforts to orally notify a parent of the use of
restraint on a student within 24 hours of the restraint, and for sending written notification
to the parent within three school working days following the use of restraint to an email
address provided by the parent for the purpose of communicating about the student, or by
regular mail to the parent postmarked within three school working days of the restraint;
(j) If the program uses time-out as a behavioral support strategy, a procedure for the use
of time-out that includes a process for obtaining principal approval of time-out for more
than 30 minutes based on the individual student’s continuing agitation.
(2) Required training for all staff. Each principal or director shall determine a time and method
to provide all program staff with training regarding the program’s restraint prevention and
behavior support policy and requirements when restraint is used. Such training shall occur within
the first month of each school year and, for employees hired after the school year begins, within
a month of their employment. Training shall include information on the following:
(a) The role of the student, family, and staff in preventing restraint;
(b) The program’s restraint prevention and behavior support policy and procedures,
including use of time-out as a behavior support strategy distinct from seclusion;
(c) Interventions that may preclude the need for restraint, including de-escalation of
problematic behaviors and other alternatives to restraint in emergency circumstances;
(d) When behavior presents an emergency that requires physical restraint, the types of
permitted physical restraints and related safety considerations, including information
regarding the increased risk of injury to a student when any restraint is used, in particular
a restraint of extended duration;
(e) Administering physical restraint in accordance with medical or psychological
limitations, known or suspected trauma history, and/or behavioral intervention plans
applicable to an individual student; and
(f) Identification of program staff who have received in-depth training pursuant to 603
CMR 46.03(3) in the use of physical restraint.
(3) In-depth staff training in the use of physical restraint. At the beginning of each school year,
the principal of each public education program or his or her designee shall identify program staff
who are authorized to serve as a school-wide resource to assist in ensuring proper administration
of physical restraint. Such staff shall participate in in-depth training in the use of physical
restraint. The Department recommends that such training be competency-based and be at least
sixteen (16) hours in length with at least one refresher training occurring annually thereafter.
(4) Content of in-depth training. In-depth training in the proper administration of physical
restraint shall include, but not be limited to:
(a) Appropriate procedures for preventing the use of physical restraint, including the deescalation
of problematic behavior, relationship building and the use of alternatives to
(b) A description and identification of specific dangerous behaviors on the part of
students that may lead to the use of physical restraint and methods for evaluating the risk
of harm in individual situations in order to determine whether the use of restraint is
(c) The simulated experience of administering and receiving physical restraint,
instruction regarding the effect(s) on the person restrained, including instruction on
monitoring physical signs of distress and obtaining medical assistance;
(d) Instruction regarding documentation and reporting requirements and investigation of
injuries and complaints;
(e) Demonstration by participants of proficiency in administering physical restraint; and,
(f) Instruction regarding the impact of physical restraint on the student and family,
recognizing the act of restraint has impact, including but not limited to psychological,
physiological, and social-emotional effects.
46.05: Proper Administration of Physical Restraint
(1) Trained personnel. Only public education program personnel who have received training
pursuant to 603 CMR 46.04(2) or 603 CMR 46.04(3) shall administer physical restraint on
students. Whenever possible, the administration of a restraint shall be witnessed by at least one
adult who does not participate in the restraint. The training requirements contained in 603 CMR
46.00 shall not preclude a teacher, employee or agent of a public education program from using
reasonable force to protect students, other persons or themselves from assault or imminent,
serious, physical harm.
(2) Use of force. A person administering a physical restraint shall use only the amount of force
necessary to protect the student or others from physical injury or harm.
(3) Safest method. A person administering physical restraint shall use the safest method available
and appropriate to the situation subject to the safety requirements set forth in 603 CMR 46.05(5).
Floor restraints, including prone restraints otherwise permitted under 603 CMR 46.03(1)(b), shall
be prohibited unless the staff members administering the restraint have received in-depth training
according to the requirements of 603 CMR 46.043(3) and, in the judgment of the trained staff
members, such method is required to provide safety for the student or others present.
(4) Duration of restraint. All physical restraint must be terminated as soon as the student is no
longer an immediate danger to himself or others, or the student indicates that he or she cannot
breathe, or if the student is observed to be in severe distress, such as having difficulty breathing,
or sustained or prolonged crying or coughing.
(5) Safety requirements. Additional requirements for the use of physical restraint:
(a) No restraint shall be administered in such a way that the student is prevented from
breathing or speaking. During the administration of a restraint, a staff member shall
continuously monitor the physical status of the student, including skin temperature and
color, and respiration.
(b) Restraint shall be administered in such a way so as to prevent or minimize physical
harm. If, at any time during a physical restraint, the student expresses or demonstrates
significant physical distress including, but not limited to, difficulty breathing, the student
shall be released from the restraint immediately, and school staff shall take steps to seek
(c) If a student is restrained for a period longer than 20 minutes, program staff shall
obtain the approval of the principal. The approval shall be based upon the student’s
continued agitation during the restraint justifying the need for continued restraint.
(d) Program staff shall review and consider any known medical or psychological
limitations, known or suspected trauma history, and/or behavioral intervention plans
regarding the use of physical restraint on an individual student.
(e) After the release of a student from a restraint, the public education program shall
implement follow-up procedures. These procedures shall include reviewing the incident
with the student to address the behavior that precipitated the restraint, reviewing the
incident with the staff person(s) who administered the restraint to discuss whether proper
restraint procedures were followed, and consideration of whether any follow-up is
appropriate for students who witnessed the incident.
46.06: Reporting Requirements
(1) Circumstances under which a physical restraint must be reported. Program staff shall report
the use of any physical restraint as specified in 603 CMR 46.06(2).
(2) Informing the principal. The program staff member who administered the restraint shall
verbally inform the principal of the restraint as soon as possible, and by written report no later
than the next school working day. The written report shall be provided to the principal for review
of the use of the restraint. If the principal has administered the restraint, the principal shall
prepare the report and submit it to an individual or team designated by the superintendent or
board of trustees for review. The principal or director or his/her designee shall maintain an ongoing
record of all reported instances of physical restraint, which shall be made available for
review by the parent or the Department upon request.
(3) Informing parents. The principal or director of the program or his/her designee shall make
reasonable efforts to verbally inform the student’s parent of the restraint within 24 hours of the
event, and shall notify the parent by written report sent either within three school working days
of the restraint to an email address provided by the parent for communications about the student,
or by regular mail postmarked no later than three school working days of the restraint. If the
school or program customarily provides a parent of a student with report cards and other
necessary school-related information in a language other than English, the written restraint report
shall be provided to the parent in that language. The principal shall provide the student and the
parent an opportunity to comment orally and in writing on the use of the restraint and on
information in the written report.
(4) Contents of report. The written report required by 603 CMR 46.06(2) and (3) shall include:
(a) The name of the student; the names and job titles of the staff who administered the
restraint, and observers, if any; the date of the restraint; the time the restraint began and
ended; and the name of the principal or designee who was verbally informed following
the restraint; and, as applicable, the name of the principal or designee who approved
continuation of the restraint beyond 20 minutes pursuant to 603 CMR 46.05(5)(c).
(b) A description of the activity in which the restrained student and other students and
staff in the same room or vicinity were engaged immediately preceding the use of
physical restraint; the behavior that prompted the restraint; the efforts made to prevent
escalation of behavior, including the specific de-escalation strategies used; alternatives to
restraint that were attempted; and the justification for initiating physical restraint.
(c) A description of the administration of the restraint including the holds used and
reasons such holds were necessary; the student’s behavior and reactions during the
restraint; how the restraint ended; and documentation of injury to the student and/or staff,
if any, during the restraint and any medical care provided.
(d) Information regarding any further action(s) that the school has taken or may take,
including any consequences that may be imposed on the student.
(e) Information regarding opportunities for the student’s parents to discuss with school
officials the administration of the restraint, any consequences that may be imposed on the
student, and any other related matter.
(5) Individual student review. The principal shall conduct a weekly review of restraint data to
identify students who have been restrained multiple times during the week. If such students are
identified, the principal shall convene one or more review teams as the principal deems
appropriate to assess each student’s progress and needs. The assessment shall include at least the
(a) review and discussion of the written reports submitted in accordance with 603 CMR
46.06 and any comments provided by the student and parent about such reports and the
use of the restraints;
(b) analysis of the circumstances leading up to each restraint, including factors such as
time of day, day of the week, antecedent events, and individuals involved;
(c) consideration of factors that may have contributed to escalation of behaviors,
consideration of alternatives to restraint, including de-escalation techniques and possible
interventions, and such other strategies and decisions as appropriate, with the goal of
reducing or eliminating the use of restraint in the future;
(d) agreement on a written plan of action by the program.
If the principal directly participated in the restraint, a duly qualified individual designated by the
superintendent or board of trustees shall lead the review team’s discussion. The principal shall
ensure that a record of each individual student review is maintained and made available for
review by the Department or the parent, upon request.
(6) Administrative review. The principal shall conduct a monthly review of school-wide
restraint data. This review shall consider patterns of use of restraints by similarities in the time
of day, day of the week, or individuals involved; the number and duration of physical restraints
school-wide and for individual students; the duration of restraints; and the number and type of
injuries, if any, resulting from the use of restraint. The principal shall determine whether it is
necessary or appropriate to modify the school’s restraint prevention and management policy,
conduct additional staff training on restraint reduction/prevention strategies, such as training on
positive behavioral interventions and supports, or take such other action as necessary or
appropriate to reduce or eliminate restraints.
(7) Report all restraint-related injuries to the Department. When a physical restraint has resulted
in an injury to a student or program staff member, the program shall send a copy of the written
report required by 603 CMR 46.06(4) to the Department postmarked no later than three school
working days of the administration of the restraint. The program shall also send the Department a
copy of the record of physical restraints maintained by the principal pursuant to 603 CMR
46.06(2) for the 30-day period prior to the date of the reported restraint. The Department shall
determine if additional action by the program is warranted and, if so, shall notify the program of
any required actions within 30 calendar days of receipt of the required written report(s).
(8) Report all physical restraints to the Department. Every program shall collect and annually
report data to the Department regarding the use of physical restraints. Such data shall be
reported in a manner and form directed by the Department.
46.07 Effective Date
The effective date of 603 CMR 46.00, as amended, is January 1, 2016.
By Paige Parisi, Director, Recruitment, Training and Support Center (FCSN) and Leslie M. Leslie, Project Coordinator – MassPAC (FCSN)
It is sometimes called “vox populi.” The source for public comment can be traced to the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and the American Revolution. The tradition of the New England Town Hall is rooted in this concept, and it continues today in the workings of government at all levels.
A period of public comment is the chance for all interested parties to comment on planned government actions before they become final. This tradition played out in important ways when the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released proposed regulations for the new Massachusetts discipline law, Chapter 222, in January 2014. DESE established a five-week period during which it would receive and review comments about the new rules. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) was scheduled to vote two weeks later.
Although the new law doesn’t change protections for special education students, these regulations will govern behavior management for all students not on an IEP, including students on 504 Plans, for years to come (see Newsline ed. December 2013 “From Zero Tolerance to Compassionate Accountability”).
Student suspension is very often a crisis moment for families. There may be blame, sadness, anger, stigma, and disappointment. Families are in need of information and support. Parents need a meaningful opportunity to participate in discussions about their child’s behavior in school, and to understand decisions made by the school and the reasons for those decisions. After reading the draft regulations, we joined the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, who led a coalition of advocates in support of enacting Chapter 222, in calling for increased parental participation under the new rules.
Chapter 222 advances school discipline in MA with the requirement that schools consider ways to reengage students in learning and avoid long-term suspension until other courses of action are tried. However, the proposed regulations for this provision contained only punitive options. The Federation along with other organizations suggested the inclusion of alternatives such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).
A provision for Emergency Removal also raised concerns. This allows a principal to immediately suspend a student before going through the new due process protections in the law, a concept that does not exist in the original text of Chapter 222. The terms of this practice were very controversial during the period of public comment.
DESE received comments from 36 organizations, including the Federation. In fact, the vote by BESE had to be postponed an entire month. Four days before the April vote, revised regulations were released, marked to show changes, along with memos describing the many changes that were made as a result of comments from the public and, for the changes that were not made, an explanation was also provided. Parents and other stakeholders welcomed the transparency of the process and were pleased with the revisions.
For example, added to the Purpose provision of the regulations, “to promote engagement of a student’s parent in discussion of the student’s misconduct, and options for responding to it.”
Parents were also given the opportunity to discuss their child’s conduct with the school before discipline was decided and offer information, including special circumstances, which the principal should consider in determining discipline for the student. This is valuable attention to the family voice.
As for Alternatives to Suspension, the original suggestions:
• Loss of privileges, detention, an apology, a student contract, restitution, and probation were removed completely and replaced with the following:
• Evidence-based strategies such as mediation, conflict resolution, restorative justice, and PBIS.
Emergency Removal remains a part of the rules. Due to objection in the public comments, the revision removed the most subjective language. However, at the April 29th meeting, a superintendent, principal and school attorney spoke strongly that the language was necessary to keep schools safe. A compromise was reached at the meeting and somewhat less subjective language was made part of the rule. It will be interesting to see how schools carry out this provision in the context of the overall changes under Chapter 222.
Parents will, in fact, have the opportunity to track a school’s progress under the law’s data reporting provisions. All MA
schools, including charters, will have to monitor and report on their disciplinary practices. In the fall of each year, DESE will make this information available to the public, broken down by subgroups, including but not limited to, race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and student with a disability status. Each year the Commissioner will identify schools that need assistance to reduce long-term suspensions or expulsions. The Commissioner will also annually identify schools and districts with significant disciplinary disproportions based on race and ethnicity, or disability. These schools will be required to implement plans to address these issues.
While MA was making these advances, the federal government also took major steps to fight discrimination in school exclusion. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division jointly released a broad set of guidance documents reminding schools of antidiscrimination laws and showing them how to identify, avoid and remedy discriminatory disciplinary policies. We join these Offices in urging schools to train teachers in classroom management and to ensure that teachers don’t rely on law enforcement for routine discipline.
Chapter 222 will require schools to revise their Codes of Conduct. Schools, parents and students are encouraged to collaborate on this project. Boston Public Schools was an early adopter of the new rules and adopted a new code of conduct last September, which is available online. The Model Code on Education and Dignity developed by the Dignity in Schools Campaign also offers online sample language for many provisions of Chapter 222.
Curtis Hartman has been a Special Education Surrogate Parent (SESP) for eleven years. “It’s continually intellectually provocative,” he says. Hartman is one of hundreds working to advocate for the educational needs of children whose parents are unknown or unavailable. SESPs are trained and supported by the Recruitment, Training and Support Center (RTSC) at the Federation for Children with Special Needs.
Hartman’s first student, a fifth grader, asked him, “Why do you care what I think?’ Federal law requires the inclusion of a student’s parent(s) or guardian(s) in the special education decision-making process, but children in state custody may not have anyone to fill that role. “This kid was angry,” Hartman remembers. “His foster parents had disciplined him by making him sleep in a cage. His principal and I made a commitment to help him. Every Monday morning, his IEP team discussed how he had done the week prior.” As an SESP, Hartman was not required to attend each of these meetings, as the time commitment is only 10-20 hours a year. While helping his student, however, Hartman became invested. “You can’t give up on a kid,” Hartman smiles. “By the time he was in ninth grade, we were discussing if he still needed to be on an IEP. He went to technical school and I attended his graduation. These are things that make you cry. This boy had been dropped off at DCF with his belongings in a trash bag, and here he was with a job and an apartment.”
Hartman invites parents of children with special needs to join him in representing children in Massachusetts. “Empathy is a huge part of this. These children don’t come from loving homes. They’ve never had someone stand up for them, and you are now on their side. Your job is to make sure their needs in the classroom are being met.”
SESPs spend their 10-20 hours a year telling the child’s story to administrators and educators, reviewing and signing IEPs and attending quarterly meetings. They receive report cards and progress reports as any parent would. Hartman adds, “It’s not your job to solve the child’s problems. It’s your job to make sure they get their free and appropriate education. Their need is so desperate that even the smallest amount of help has an immense effect.”
If you have an interest in improving the lives of children with special needs, consider becoming a Special Education Surrogate Parent in your area. “The process is so interesting.” Hartman says. “I could never learn all there is to learn. It keeps my mind agile.”
To become an SESP, contact the RTSC at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us with questions at (617) 399-8342. Ask yourself as Curtis Hartman does, “Who’s the kid I’m going to see graduate from high school? Who’s the next child I’m able to help, and how can I help them?”
Project Associate, Recruitment Training and Support Center for Special Education Surrogate Parents