In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Loudoun County School Board adopted a policy that sets guidelines on when and how students may be restrained or secluded.
The new policy comes almost a year after parents raised concerns that discipline of special education students sometimes involved physically restraining them or forcing them to sit alone in a room for hours at a time. In the spring, the board created a 19-member Ad Hoc Committee on Special Education and tasked it with scrutinizing the school system’s special education practices and recommend improvements.
The policy that the board adopted Tuesday includes more specific language than the policy initially recommended by the ad hoc committee. The board voted 8-5, with Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) absent, to add a paragraph stating that seclusion should rarely be used for students younger than 9 years old, and that seclusion should not exceed 30 minutes.
Superintendent of Pupil Services Asia Jones said she and the division’s legal team did not recommend adding that paragraph. “What happens when there is an event that requires more…You’re essentially taking a tool away to intervene.”
Chris Croll (Catoctin), who sat on the ad hoc committee prior to being appointed to the School Board, said parents are concerned that seclusion practices will be misused if the policy does not include parameters, such as age and a time limit. “Sitting in a room alone—you can imagine that would be pretty traumatic for a child under 9—for a 9-year-old or 10-year-old as well,” Croll said. “We really need to be cognizant of the damage this practice can have on children.”
School Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run), who worked with Croll on the amendment language, said the age and time limit is a common standard in other states. She also referred to the fact that the two representatives from the Special Education Advisory Council appointed to the Ad Hoc Committee on Special Education opposed the initial policy because it did not go far enough.
“This takes that in mind and really adds some meat to the policy,” Maloney said.
The other point of contention was whether to add a sentence stating that staff must notify the School Board if any “material changes” are made to how staff interprets or puts the policy into practice.
Several board members called that line “an overreach,” noting that the board’s job is to set policy and trust staff in how it is carried out. “And if that’s not happening, then it comes back to us,” said Beth Huck (At Large), who chairs the ad hoc committee.
Superintendent Eric Williams told that board that the good working relationship between senior staff members and the board means he will continue open communication if he or anyone on his team decides to change their practice. “Clearly this is of great interest to the community and the School Board, so I’ll certainly let the board know about that.”
Maloney agreed to remove the amendment.
The board also added in a paragraph that directs a school administrator to contact the child’s parent or guardian either in person, by phone or email—if the parent has authorized that form of communication—to notify them of the restraint or seclusion and any related first aid on the day the incident occurred.
“This is absolutely a must—this may impact their child’s behavior, their mood, all those things that parents will need to come along and work with their child on,” said School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said. “This is important on the mental health side, not just the physical side.”
Several board members reiterated that the goal of the board and senior staff members is to eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion all together. Huck said she feels the first step is adopting a policy that outlines what is permitted and prohibited, and the second step will be to train employees in best practices.
“We have worked this thing to death,” she said ahead of the vote. “So I think it’s time to bring it to life and vote on it and continue our work in the ad hoc committee and refine the things that still need to be refined. We have a good, solid policy to govern us in the meantime.”