More Students Secluded and Restrained in Madison

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. I recently obtained the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) seclusion and restraint data for the past school year, and sadly, while there has been some progress in reducing the number of incidents of seclusion and restraint, as compared to the prior year, there were actually more students secluded and restrained during the 2017-18 school year than in the prior year.

Here is the latest data:

  • Elementary School:
    • 2017-18: 384 students secluded &/or restrained, 250 of whom have disabilities
    • 2016-17: 405 students secluded &/or restrained, 259 of whom have disabilities
    • 2017-18: 1,690 incidents of restraint and 1,484 incidents of seclusion
    • 2016-17: 2,177 incidents of restraint and 2,175 incidents of seclusion
  • Middle School:
    • 2017-18: 81 students secluded &/or restrained, 67 of whom have disabilities
    • 2016-17: 73 students secluded &/or restrained, 37 of whom have disabilities
    • 2017-18: 162 incidents of restraint and 206 incidents of seclusion
    • 2016-17: 80 incidents of restraint and 45 incidents of seclusion
  • High School:
    • 2017-18: 75 students secluded &/or restrained, 37 of whom have disabilities
    • 2016-17: 51 students secluded &/or restrained, 38 of whom have disabilities
    • 2017-18: 104 incidents of restraint and 76 incidents of seclusion
    • 2016-17: 78 incidents of restraint and 69 incidents of seclusion
  • District totals:
    • 2017-18: 540 students secluded &/or restrained, 354 of whom have disabilities
    • 2016-17: 529 students secluded &/or restrained, 334 of whom have disabilities
    • 2017-18: 1,956 incidents of restraint and 1,766 incidents of seclusion
    • 2016-17: 2,335 incidents of restraint and 2,289 incidents of seclusion

In sum, while the district has made progress in reducing the number of elementary school students who are subjected to seclusion and restraint, that reduction is more than offset by the increase in middle and high school who are subjected to these aversive techniques. Regarding the total number of such incidents, the significant drop in elementary school students who were subjected to seclusion and restraint results in an overall drop district-wide despite the increase in the use of seclusion and restraint on middle and high school students. Of course, the data also reveals that many students are secluded and/or restrained multiple times during the year.

Two years ago, I analyzed MMSD’s seclusion and restraint data. At that time, MMSD conceded 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 planned training and follow up for these schools. The question for MMSD is what it plans to do now to further reduce the over-reliance of seclusion and restraint at the elementary school level and reduce the trend of increased use of these aversive techniques which are traumatic to students and staff alike at the middle and high school level.

Unfortunately, since there is still no federal law regarding the use of seclusion and restraint of school children, and Wisconsin’s law needs improvement, the problem simply will not go away. Indeed, recently the news of the use of a padded cell like seclusion room in the Chequamegon School District upset parents there. As one parent said about this room: “If I put my kid in the closet, I would have my kids taken away from me and that’s exactly what they are doing with my kid.”

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Chequamegon School District seclusion room

As I have been saying for years, at every level: federal, state and local, better training in the use of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) must take place in order to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint. Moreover, there must be meaningful accountability for staff and administrators who fail to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of seclusion and restraint. Until both of these things happen, students and staff will continue to be traumatized by the nightmare 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.

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