Seclusion & Restraint Surges in Madison

In response to an Open Records request, I recently received the 2015-16 school year seclusion and restraint use data from the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As MMSD has not published this data on its website, contact me at through my website if you want a copy of the data.

The use of these dangerous, aversive techniques rose significantly from the previous year, which had increased from the year before that as the numbers below reveal. Even more troubling is the wide variation of use of seclusion and restraint between schools and particularly high use in elementary and alternative schools, as well as among children with disabilities.

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U.S. Senator Tom Harking introduced the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” in 2014

MMSD 2015-16 Seclusion & Restraint Data highlights

Numbers of Students Impacted

  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 7.09
  • Elementary School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 5.23
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: Orchard Ridge: 16 students with disabilities/33 students without disabilities (lowest numbers were redacted by school district to protect confidentiality)
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 5.62
  • Middle School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 3.46
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Whitehorse: 7 students with disabilities/ 0 students without disabilities
  • Middle School with Lowest Use: O’Keefe had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint
  • High School Mean Use on Students with Disabilities: 3
  • High School Mean Use on Students without Disabilities: 1.6
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 18 students with Disabilities/ 19 students without disabilities.
  • High School with Lowest Use: Shabazz had 0 incidents of seclusion or restraint

Numbers of Incidents

  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 56.29
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 74.6
  • Elementary School Mean Incidents of Seclusion  and Restraint Used in combination: 36.6
  • Elementary Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 94.29
  • Elementary School with Highest Use: LEAP (Olson Elementary Alternative Program): 435 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 435 times)
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Restraint Only: 12.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Only: 10.38
  • Middle School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 6.62
  • Middle School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 16.15
  • Middle School with Highest Use: Sennett: 27 total incidents (note as number of students was redacted, this means that 5 or fewer students were secluded and/or restrained a total of 27 times)
  • High School Mean Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 7.33
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 5.17
  • High School Mean Incidents of Seclusion and Restraint Used in combination: 3.5
  • High School Mean total Seclusion & Restraint Incidents: 9
  • High School with Highest Use: East: 49 total incidents

Districtwide Totals

  • Students with Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 324
  • Students without Disabilities Secluded and/or Restrained: 231
  • Total Incidents of Restraint Use Only: 2,136
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion Use Only: 2,749
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion & Restraint in Combination: 1,369
  • Total Incidents of Seclusion and/or Restraint Use: 3,516

MMSD Analysis

  • 2% of MMSD students experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • 5.6% of MMSD students with disabilities experienced seclusion and/or restraint
  • Seclusion and restraint use is highest in elementary schools (16.49%)
  • Mean incidents of restraint use in elementary schools was 56.3/building with a range per building of 1 to 436
  • Mean incidents of seclusion use in elementary schools was 74.6/building with a range of 0 to 309
  • There has been a steady increase in use of seclusion in restraint since data was collected for the first time in 2013-14 as follows:
    • 2013-14: 975 incidents of restraint and 1,387 incidents of seclusion
    • 2014-15: 1,266 incidents of restraint and 1,688 incidents of seclusion
    • 2015-16: 1,452 incidents of restraint and 2.064 incidents of seclusion
  • A small number of elementary schools account for the vast number of incidents with 23 elementary schools reported increased use and only 12 elementary schools reporting a decline.
  • MMSD hypothesizes that the increased use is simply due to better data collection
  • MMSD concedes that, “for those elementary schools that have consistently demonstrated increases in the number of incidents of restraint and seclusion, a pattern of over-reliance on restraint/seclusion may be evident.” MMSD plans training and follow up for these schools.

Conclusions

When I helped to pass Act 125 in 2012 to document and regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools, one of the chief goals was to reduce the use of these aversive techniques. Sadly, MMSD has gone in the opposite direction, and has failed to:

  1. hold principals of schools with continually increasing rates accountable for these increases;
  2. correlate the increased use of seclusion and restraint with a decreased use of suspension; and
  3. establish clear goals for the reduction and eventual elimination of the use of seclusion and restraint in MMSD schools.

Simply blaming the increasing numbers on better documentation is insufficient in the face of an ever increasing use of dangerously aversive techniques that are well known to traumatize children. In order to reverse this troubling trend, MMSD must insist on better training in the use of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and accountability for its staff and administrators who fail to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Playing with Whales

For the past week, my wife and I have enjoyed vacationing in Nova Scotia, where neither of us had ever been before. It is very beautiful, with vast forests, mountains, lakes and of course, many miles of Atlantic ocean coast line. We attempted to go whale watching early in our trip in Cape Breton. Alas, the whales did not cooperate and although we had a lovely boat trip, we did not see any whales.

Now, we are down on the southern coast, and  yesterday we decided to go on another whale watching excursion in the Bay of Fundy, which is well known for its 16 foot tides. In fact, in Annapolis Royal (the first European settlement in Canada), Nova Scotia Power operates North America’s only Tidal Power Station (check out this video for an explanation of how it works).

As we boarded the boat, I informed the captain, that my wife and I were disappointed that we didn’t see whales on our previous excursion in Cape Breton. He smiled and said that while he could not guarantee a sighting, he succeeded in finding whales 99.9% of the time.

Sure enough, not long after our boat headed out of the channel and into the larger sea, we spotted two Humpback whales, the guides told us they were a mother and daughter, the daughter being about 8 months old and recently weaned. They estimated their size at approximately 45 feet long, with the mother being somewhat longer, about the size of our boat.

What happened next surprised everyone, including the experienced crew. The mother and daughter whale apparently decided that they would  enjoy our company and they simply swam back and forth under and around the boat, even nudging it occasionally. They were so close, we could see their eyes and the barnacles which had attached to them.

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Everyone on board, including the Captain and crew, watched the playful whales with sheer amazement. The Captain and crew repeatedly exclaimed that this playful show was truly exceptional. Perhaps my wife and I were meant not to see whales in Cape Breton as had we seen them, we may not have taken this second excursion.

Earlier in our Canadian trip, my son (who is currently studying abroad) asked me why Canadians have their heads screwed on right? While I cannot say for sure, I do know that even as a teenager growing up in Detroit during the Vietnam war, every time I crossed the border into Canada, I felt cleaner (even though Windsor is not the cleanest Canadian city).

Maybe Canadians understand that their destiny is shared with nature, and that in order to succeed, they need to play with nature, not fight against it. Given their harsh winters, one might imagine that an American response would be of conquest, but Canadians instead build tidal power plants and play with whales.

Of course, like all nations, Canadians have some troubled history. But, Canadians took a monumental step when they enshrined the rights of aboriginal people, generally known as First Nations, in their Constitution in 1982. The term elevates First Nations to the status of “first among equals” alongside the English and French as founding nations of Canada.

Perhaps, if more people in the United States saw our richly diverse heritage in this way, that each component of our nation’s varied tapestry is just a first among equals, we would experience less racism and xenophobia. Maybe, more people just need to go play with whales.

As I write this, here is my view:

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The Earth’s natural beauty helps refresh me for systems change efforts to come. After all, if we can play with whales, we can overcome whale size problems. It just takes the right combination of people with the right approach.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

If it Ain’t Broke…

You know the tried and true maxim, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Just about everyone believes that is a sound way of living one’s life. That’s what I thought too until a few weeks ago when I went to the funeral of Will Simmons, the son of a friend of mine and great disability advocate, Liz Hecht and her husband Scott Simmons.

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I got to know Will through my synagogue, as Will had his Bar Mitzvah there about 14 years ago. Since I was President of our synagogue, I had the good fortune of saying a few words of congratulations to Will and bestowing upon him a gift from our synagogue.

Will’s Bar Mitzvah was not a typical Bar Mitzvah. Will had some disabilities, and as a result his speech was very hard for most people to understand. To accommodate his disability, Will read the Torah and led other parts of the service using a computerized voice. This was the first, and is still the only time, that I have seen anyone become a Bar Mitzvah using assistive technology.

Will went on from his Bar Mitzvah and earned a college degree. He even became certified in scuba diving despite many physical challenges.

Sadly, Will died unexpectedly in his sleep a few weeks ago, and I was fortunate to be able to attend his funeral service. Many beautiful eulogies were given by friends and family, but the most profound eulogy came from his roommate and best friend, Sam Katz. Sam also has some disabilities, but like Will, he is also a college graduate, and refuses to let his disabilities stop him from accomplishing his goals.

During Sam’s eulogy, he shared with the hundreds of friends and family members who gathered to pay tribute to Will, that Will’s favorite saying was,

If it ain’t broke, you’re not trying hard enough.

As you might imagine, hearing this tried and true phrase turned inside out made me and probably everyone else, think about why one would prefer to break things rather than leave well enough alone.

As soon as I heard Sam share this inside out version of the truism, I smiled, as I realized that Will had a passion for viewing the world in a way that would work for him, rather than  remain content with a world that was not built for someone who used a wheelchair and whose speech was difficult to understand.

As someone who has dedicated most of my life to systems change, I realized that Will’s view of the world makes a lot of sense. While it might be easier to leave things alone if they are not broken, the truth is that the status quo is simply not acceptable for the vast number of people that do not fit neatly into mainstream society’s norms.

For Will, if computer software did not perform in a way that fit his needs, even if it was not necessarily broken, he knew that he would have to try harder to make the software (or any other tool or device) fit his needs, even if it meant breaking it to do so.

Nobody ever discovered anything new by remaining content with the status quo. Will refused to be content with the status quo because it was not built for him. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable modifications and accommodations to buildings and programs so that those with disabilities can fully participate in society.

Will’s abbreviated life, and the way he chose to live it, with tremendous support from his  parents, sister, family, friends and caregivers, which sadly ended too soon, provides important lessons for those who may be square pegs trying to fit into society’s round holes. As he said, “If it ain’t broke, you’re not trying hard enough.”

May Will’s memory be a blessing and his lesson help many live a better life.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

School to Prison Pipeline Close to Home

Recently, the Madison school board voted to modify the contract it has with the City of Madison through which it pays for 4 full time police officers (one stationed in each high school). Unfortunately, rather than taking this vote as an opportunity for a serious conversation about the role of police in our schools, Madison’s Mayor, Paul Soglin threatened to remove the police from the high schools if an agreement is not reached within 45 days, though to date, he has been unwilling to engage in serious negotiations on the issue.

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Courtesy: Atlanta Black Star

While it is unclear how these negotiations will conclude, both the City and the school board would be wise to examine the available data on juvenile arrest rates to determine whether they are feeding the school to prison pipeline. I recently obtained a copy of a Dane County report with very useful data, Juvenile Population, Arrest, Law Enforcement Referral, and Recidivism in Dane County, 2007‐ 2015There is some good news. Despite an increase in the juvenile population in Dane County from about 45,000 in 2001, to just under 48,000 in 2014, the number of juvenile arrests have fallen from about 8,000 in 2001, to around 3,000 in 2015. While that is a dramatic decline, it is, nevertheless stunning to see the high percentage of juveniles arrested in Dane County. It should be noted, however, that the number of arrests of white juveniles was about the same as that of black juveniles in 2015, but due to the much smaller black population in Dane County, the arrest rate of black juveniles is 3.5 times higher than that of white juveniles.

However, arrests just start the juvenile justice process. The next step is a referral for prosecution. Referrals for prosecution also highlight a huge racial disparity. In 2015, 483 black juveniles were referred for prosecution compared to only 299 white juveniles. Overall, the juvenile referral rate has risen dramatically from 2007-2015 as follows:

  • Total juvenile arrest referral rate increase=37.7%
  • White juvenile arrest referral rate increase=41.1%
  • Black juvenile arrest referral rate increase=26.7%

The arrest referral disparity between white and black juveniles in 2015 is almost 2:1.

The most relevant data to the current debate about police in our schools is that the most common location for juvenile arrest is in school. In 2015, 22.3% of all juvenile justice referrals were from arrests that took place at school. The percentage of school arrests by race were split evenly among white, black and Hispanic juveniles at around 22% (no explanation is given for the other 34%). In 2015, 81 of the 188 Dane County school law enforcement referrals took place in MMSD schools, 67 of which were at MMSD high schools. It is worth noting that the single highest juvenile law enforcement referral has been the very generic disorderly conduct.

When juveniles enter the justice system they are assigned a social worker who makes a recommendation  to the district attorney regarding formal charges. It is worth noting that the DA has consistently charged juveniles at a higher rate than the social worker recommendation. In 2015, social workers recommended charged in 46% of cases, while prosecutors charged 56% of such cases. The racial disparities are stark. In 2015, prosecutors charged:

  • 62% of black juvenile arrestees;
  • 53% of Hispanic juvenile arrestees; and
  • 43% of white juvenile arrestees.

As the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District negotiate the future role of police officers in our schools, examining this data, with eye towards elimination of the school to prison pipeline and elimination of racial disparities in juvenile arrests should be a critical piece of the conversation.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.