- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A proposal that would allow schools to physically subdue students only in emergency situations would remove South Dakota from the short list of states that lack regulations governing the use of restraint and seclusion.

An advisory group is scheduled Thursday to discuss the draft rules, which would eventually require the approval of the state Board of Education.

The proposed regulations are important to ensure that South Dakota students aren’t hurt and that the practices, especially restraint, are only used “in the most dire situations” by those with proper training, said Linda Turner, director of special education programs at the state Department of Education.

“Not in South Dakota, but nationally, there have been issues where students have been physically harmed, or there have even been cases of death due to improper use of restraint, in particular the method where they’re face down on the ground,” Turner said. “We want to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen in South Dakota.”

South Dakota is one of five of states that don’t have restraint and seclusion protections for students in place at schools, said Jessica Butler, a national advocate for children with disabilities who tracks restraint and seclusion regulations. She applauded the state for moving forward with the rules.

Restraint includes someone immobilizing a student or using restrictive equipment such as straps or handcuffs. Seclusion refers to confining a student to a room or area without the ability to leave. It’s unclear how often both actions are used in state schools, which the proposed rules would require be tracked.

Information released by ProPublica from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights shows that some South Dakota schools reported the use of restraint and seclusion to the federal government during the 2011-2012 school year.

The regulations are still under development, Department of Education spokeswoman Mary Stadick Smith said, and the public will have the opportunity to comment when the Board of Education considers it, which will likely begin next year.

“We do know that people are being trained in the appropriate processes, but this will provide more oversight to the entire system,” Turner said.

About two dozen employees among the Mitchell School District’s roughly 200 are trained in crisis prevention in the “very unlikely” case it’s necessary, superintendent Joseph Graves said. The training includes guidance on when to use the practices and shows specific holds to use that will safely prevent students from harming others, Graves said.

The district until recently had a trainer on staff. Graves said he welcomes state guidelines over restraint and seclusion, which have occurred in the district in recent years.

“It’s certainly a rare occurrence, but it does occur,” he said.

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