- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Children’s advocates are urging the Mississippi Department of Education to ban the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.

The department has drafted a proposed policy and is taking public comments before presenting it to the state Board of Education, possibly by November.

Mississippi is one of five states without a policy or law to govern when and how school employees can restrain students or put them in seclusion, said Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.

In June 2011, Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit that said Capital City Alternative School in Jackson had used “unreasonable, abusive and excessive physical restraints,” including handcuffing some students to a pole. In May 2012, Jackson Public Schools settled the lawsuit and agreed only to handcuff older students for crimes. The settlement said no handcuffs could be used on students younger than 13, and employees could not shackle any student to a fixed object.

During a public hearing Wednesday in Jackson, Heather Rhodes of Pass Christian said she has a 9-year-old son with autism. She said a school employee in another south Mississippi town once put him in a black wooden box called the “chill zone” when he was screaming in class. Rhodes said she arrived when that was happening, and “I was in a state of shock.”

Rhodes - who would not publicly name the school - said she crawled in the box and tried to calm her son down. She said she immediately took him home and he has moved to another school.

Rhodes said if she had treated her son, or his twin sister, the way the school treated him, “I would be arrested. I would be in jail. My kids would be in foster care.”

The Department of Education’s proposed restraint and seclusion policy outlines what school employees should do if students create imminent danger for themselves or others.

“Under no circumstances shall restraint or seclusion be utilized as a punitive measure,” it says.

The proposal also says: “Physical restraints that restrict the flow of air are prohibited in all situations.”

Linda West is executive director of Mississippi Families for Kids, which works on adoption and foster care issues. She said she adopted her son when he was 4 years old, and he was later diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. A school employee once locked him in a closet with cleaning supplies, not knowing that his biological parents had previously locked him in a closet for punishment.

“Putting him in seclusion further traumatized him,” West said.


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