theebrandenburgs blogspear

This page is designed to share information about our struggle to gain equity for our unique children and their learning styles in a public education system that is designed primarily to teach a single type of learner, and which is increasingly sidelined by fiscal and philosophical issues that challenge the core of its collective existence. We are especially interested in unique learners, and the talented people who teach them, their families, and our shared value as human beings. We seek the end of discrimination, the end of seclusion, separation, and isolation, as well as an end to chemical and physical restraints that are commonly used to assault our children and our unique interpretations of the world.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Spare the Rod..........Spoil the Child??

by Mary Brandenburg & Tony Brandenburg
Over the past couple weeks, a story that has been in the news headlines regarding treatment of students with disabilities involves a 4th grade boy from Kentucky who has autism. He reportedly smirked and threw a ball in class, and the consequence for this behavior was stuffing him in a duffel bag and pulling the drawstring so he couldn't get out. His mom was called to the school to deal with his behavior, discovering him when she heard a voice calling from the army bag. Thankfully, he didn't suffocate, but who can measure the emotional trauma he suffered?
Another school in the news, the Judge Rotenberg Center, uses painful electrical shocks, restraint chairs, shackles and seclusion to control the behavior of people with disabilities. This center, which charges $200,000 yearly tuition, has lobbied in Washington extensively against legislation establishing regulations to protect students in schools. The Rotenberg Center is a $200,000 per year crime- a "therapeutic" torture center conducting behavioral experiments on people with disabilities that has to be seen to be believed.
Today's headlines make it clear that all schoolchildren are at risk for seclusion and restraint in private and public schools across America, but it is also becoming clear that students with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to these abuses. It happens nationally, and it happens locally. Students with disabilities are often vulnerable to such abuses due not only to manifestations of their disabilities being viewed as "misbehavior"- but also due to their ability to understand and then follow through on directions given to them. Aversive interventions are often used to force "compliance", as well as simply for the convenience of staff working with them- to make their job easier.
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates issued a report citing that incidents involving the use of aversive seclusion/restraints on children with disabilities, that 68% were diagnosed with Autism/Asperger's. As this particular sub-group in the population becomes more focused- both in their civil rights, and their sheer numbers (1%-3% of the population of school aged children)- they become more of an active political force to be recognized. They are increasingly mobile and vocal about abuses leveled at their peers. The use of aversives against this sub-group has not gone unnoticed.
Research has shown that aversive interventions, seclusion and restraint carry no therapeutic value. Aversives frequently trigger the fight/flight response, as well as long term psychological trauma. There are numerous documented cases of injury and death attributed to these practices. According to U.S. Govt. Accountability Office estimates, over 200 students have died as a result of school based seclusion and restraints over the past five years. Two hundred children, murdered in American schools. Indiscriminate use of adversives, by people untrained to provide the supports necessary to teach this population, is not an acceptable substitute for planned, positive, systematic behavioral support.
We, as parents, have seen first hand the lasting effects of the indiscriminate use of aversive interventions. This includes seclusion and/or restraints at school placed on our own children. These are not isolated occurrences. Attached as a PDF to this blog is the Pasadena Unified Autism Spectrum Disorders Education Program Audit which was finalized in 2011. It may come as no surprise to families with experiences similar to ours that an area found to be in need of improvement involved behavioral planning and programming. This includes the necessity for intensive behavioral training for all District staff.
When can we anticipate these changes taking place? It has been more than a year since the audit, and only now is there a task force being formed- and which will no doubt retread the same path- presumably under the direction of the new Pasadena Unified Special Education Director. Dr. Elizabeth Blanco, exiting PUSD in the next month will leave our district with more questions than answers- and more messes than solutions- is moving on- to share her 'social justice skills' further up the coast. But at what cost to the PUSD special education students while we wait?
The Keeping all Kids Safe Act was introduced in the Senate this past December by Senator Tom Harkin. This important piece of legislation seeks to establish minimum nationwide standards to protect schoolchildren from physical and psychological harm resulting from aversive behavioral interventions, including restraints and seclusion. 
Key provisions:  
-Prohibits seclusion- in locked, or separate rooms/enclosures that a child cannot exit from. Schoolchildren have been locked/blocked into closets, storage rooms, and/or isolated for hours at a time in separate rooms, denied access to their education, for often minor infractions, such as protesting, refusing, or even tearing their schoolwork. This practice was commonly used with my own child, without notifying us, and irregardless of whether there was a true emergency situation.
*Consider, the long established Sierra Madre School Guidance (Seclusion) Room, could also fit into this type of aversive intervention.
-Bans physical restraints except in emergency situations where there is an imminent threat ofserious bodily injury. Prone restraint is prohibited, as are any restraints restricting breathing. 
*What defines threats of serious bodily injury? Does it include breaking/throwing pencils, tearing papers, pinches, slaps, kicks, screams, etc.? Or does it follow Title 18 of the U.S. Code?
-Prohibits mechanical restraints such as locking students into chairs/devices, taping or tying them to furniture......including stuffing students into duffel bags.
-Bans chemical restraints such as medications used to control behavior, and not administered in accordance with a physician's orders.
-Prohibits aversive behavioral interventions that compromise health and safety by inflicting physical and/or emotional pain to change behavior. This includes denial of food, water, bathroom use, as well as sensory exploitation such as spraying water or chemicals in the face, forced feeding, bathroom time outs, forced trash pick up, etc. 
-Requires that parents be notified within 24 hours of a child being restrained.
*Past practices at Sierra Madre School regarding our own child, were that we were not notified of restraints and seclusion being employed with our child on numerous occasions often months after the fact, if at all.
Establishes numerous provisions promoting positive school climate and culturethrough positive intervention practices emphasizing conflict management and de-escalation, including school wide use of positive behavioral interventions and supports. 
Something to think about.
Does your local school practice
1. Social isolation or humiliation (name on the board, time out rooms, guidance rooms, sitting students apart but in view of their peers, recess benching, trash pick-up, ridicule based on learning differences)
2. Physical punishment (running laps, forcing children to write as punishment, witholding meals and breaks even for a few minutes, trash pick-up, blowing a whistle in class in close proximity to students)
3. Over correction (doing a task over and over, even if it causes distress, holding a child accountable for an action for days)
4. Are these punishments approved by the school district? Are they long lasting and develop positive outcomes? Do they seem reasonable? 
So, parents, while we wait for the legislators, self-study committees, and the revolving door of administrators to figure out what to do, it becomes our role to start asking ourselves- what is acceptable practice? Just because it was done before, does it make it good practice now? Is that the best we can hope for in the future. Ask yourself if the established schoolwide practices are educationally, ethically, and socially sound. If it is unacceptable to treat your child this way, is it acceptable to treat another family's children this way? Do some children 'deserve' to be punished differently and more forcefully because their behavior doesn't meet your standards of conduct? If your child were to became disabled tommorrow, would you feel the same way? Would you be OK if they shoved your child into a duffle bag?

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