Investigation into principal focuses attention on student seclus - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Investigation into principal focuses attention on student seclusion and restraint

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MADISON (WKOW) -- An advocate for children with disabilities says an investigation into a Milton school principal's use of seclusion and restraint with an autistic child focuses attention on the continued challenge of making sure educators observe limits on how they manage disruptive children.

Janesville police officials investigated Harmony Elementary School principal Jeanne Smith's interactions with a seven year old, second grade child. Two school staff members made school district officials aware of concerns over Smith's actions.

Lisa Pugh of Disability Rights Wisconsin tells 27 News police review of seclusion and restraint episodes is another safeguard.

"Sometimes these practices do rise to the level of child abuse," Pugh says.

Police reports show the child was placed in five-by-five-foot room. They say a staff member watched Smith back the child into a corner, and heard her yell, "You're a rotten kid." The report states Smith disputes she used that phrase.

Reports also show the child was forced to sit cross legged on the floor, and when the child kicked, a staff member told police officers Smith stepped on the inside of the child's knee, as the child yelled about being hurt.

Police reports state officials concluded Smith committed no crimes. Reports show the child's father disputes that decision.

A school district investigation into Smith's actions continue, with Smith placed on administrative leave. Prior to the incident with the child, Smith had informed district officials she planned to retire at the end of the school year.

A law passed in 2011 requires school districts to report episodes of seclusion and restraint. Data collected by Disability Rights Wisconsin shows 2,934 students were involved in incidents of seclusion or restraint in the 2012-13 school year.

But Pugh says there is no uniform, reporting method, and some districts declined to report, citing confidentiality concerns.

Pugh proposes data be collected by the state department of public instruction, and be subject to more analysis. She believes such review would flag schools or districts with high rates of these tactics.

Pugh says the law does provide crucial direction on best practices. "What Wisconsin did with the law is say, there are certain practices, that are unsafe. It defines seclusion and restraint."




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