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Idaho’s Public Charter Schools Embrace a Culture of Prevention for Students with Behavioral Challenges

by Jennifer Ribordy

Student safety has and will always be a paramount priority for school leaders, teachers, and families in our public charter schools. Recently, for all public schools, there has been an increased focus on the use of documentation and reporting of data related to the use of restraint and seclusion in Idaho schools. At the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Special Education Programming and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) and Office of Civil Rights (OCR), have also revamped their guidance related to student safety outlining best practices recommendations related to the prevention of and response to intensive student behaviors.

The consistent message present in the guidance is that the use of restraint and seclusion should only ever be considered when presenting circumstances are of such intensity and severity that the threat will (without question) result in immediate harm to the student in crises or others around them.

Despite the intention to provide clarity on the issue, the application of the guidance has yet to result in consensus among educational stakeholders in Idaho that the use of restraint and seclusion is not only rare, but a response utilized only in the most dangerous of circumstances by appropriately trained staff. There is an apparent lack of trust here that stems from a multitude of factors including (but not limited to), the reporting of accurate data that includes episodes when a crises level behavior occurred but was diffused without the use of restraint or seclusion.

Without this information, it is impossible to interpret if trends are improving in Idaho in terms of utilizing best practices for behavioral intervention. Making things murkier, the Idaho State Legislature has yet to take action on policy related to the use of restraint and seclusion in schools despite the topic rearing its head over and over in recent years. A majority of states have already adopted guidance related to behavioral intervention and student safety. Thirty-two have outright passed laws prohibiting the use of restraint unless a student is a danger to him/herself or others.

Those of us who work in this area know that there is no shortage of stories related to the harmful, and sometimes tragic outcomes of the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion. Idaho is a “local control” state. While there are many benefits in deferring educational policy and procedure decisions to local experts and stakeholders, there are some issues that deserve the attention and concern of our state policymakers and lawmakers. Restraint and seclusion can become a life and death matter for some of our most vulnerable students, and as such, deserves the attention of state education leaders.

To address the challenges, several Idaho public charter schools are leading the way by intentionally working together on the prevention and management of crises level student behaviors. Since September of 2020, these partners have worked with Bluum to demonstrate their commitment to prioritizing student safety by investing time and financial resources into ongoing training focused on building a “culture of prevention” relative to intensive student behaviors.  The initial launch of this multi-school effort was supported by Federal CSP funds and coordinated by myself as part of the Bluum effort to provide professional development to our partner schools. The demand for this critical skills training has continued and schools are now independently funding the costs associated with maintaining certifications as well as certifying new trainers as the make-up of their teams change.

To date, 18 building level certified crises intervention trainers have worked together to improve their efforts for students. These schools include Mosaics Public School in Caldwell, Elevate Academy Caldwell, Elevate Academy Nampa, Treasure Valley Classical Academy in Fruitland, Anser Charter School in Garden City, Future Public School in Garden City,  Cardinal Academy in Boise, Hayden Canyon Charter School in Hayden, White Pine Charter School in Ammon, Idaho Arts Charter School in Nampa, Sage International School in Boise, Forge International School in Middleton, Rolling Hills Charter School in Boise, and The Village Charter School in Boise.

Each on-site trainer has the ability to support and train all appropriate staff members in a targeted and on-going manner on the prevention of and response to challenging behaviors. In addition, many of these schools have taken focused steps to outline policies and/or procedures to guide responses that prioritize student safety and well-being.

In addition to the value this training has added to building-wide culture, several schools have taken further steps to internally develop their own guidelines around the use of restraint and seclusion.  Solid policy includes:

  • clear, organization-wide understanding of the definition of restraint and seclusion as defined by the Office of Civil Rights;
  • clear policies and procedures regarding the use of restraint and seclusion;
  • accurate data collection and reporting procedures for incurred incidents;
  • efficient timelines lines for adjustments to behavior intervention plans driven by a functional behavior assessment, trauma informed lens; and
  • regularly scheduled updates to established polices aligned with current federal guidance.

Schools and lawmakers can do better to protect our most vulnerable children.  If you are interested in learning more about incorporating a culture of prevention in your school related to restraint and seclusion, or how to establish comprehensive procedures and documentation practices specific to crises response, please contact Bluum for more information.

Jennifer Ribordy is Bluum’s Special Education Development Director.

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