The Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education Tuesday night updated a district policy on the use of restraints, seclusions and time-out for students found to exhibit "violent or aggressive behavior." The policy comes in response to a state law that went into effect in June establishing more stringent parameters for when such measures can be used on students.
According to the statute, only school staff properly trained in restraint and safety measures can apply them to students. For this to happen, students' behavior must present an "imminent danger of serious harm" to themselves or others, and less restrictive measures have to appear incapable of preventing the imminent threat of physical harm.
A memo from the state public education department released in May says that each school in New Mexico is required to establish its own policies and procedures for restraint and seclusion techniques in a school safety plan.
"We're not going to have each school developing their own restraint policy," SFPS Superintendent Veronica Garcia tells SFR. "Whatever they embed in their safety plan will be the district restraint policy."
The old district policy adopted by the board in July 2013 says that schools could use restraints and time-outs when "preventative measures including de-escalation techniques" failed. But it did not explicitly advocate for the minimal use of restrictive and exclusionary techniques, which is now required for compliance with the law.
SFPS's former policy also allowed for school staffers to use "mechanical restraints" on students, which it defined as "any device or material attached or adjacent to the student's body that restricts freedom of movement" and that a student cannot easily remove. This, too, will no longer be acceptable under the new guidelines.
Restraint methods cannot impede a student's ability to breathe under the new law. It also requires that the parent or guardian of a student on whom restraint or seclusion was used be notified the same day the it happened, and be provided "within a reasonable time" with more details about the encounter. Two or more individual restraints within a 30-day calendar period are supposed to trigger an automatic review at a school.
A Santa Fe High School student named Ryan Sheppard-Peery made headlines earlier this year when he became a visible advocate for the state bill limiting the use of restraints. Sheppard-Peery, who lives with autism, told The Santa Fe New Mexican that he went on anti-depressants while still in elementary school after he was restrained multiple times by school staff. Governor Susana Martinez invited him to a private bill-signing in April.
Right now the policy approved by the board is a skeletal plan that basically mandates compliance with the state law. In the near future, administrative regulations, including safety plans, trainings, and notification systems will be drafted and approved by the board to more closely regulate different aspects of the law within the district.
There's no timetable set for that, but Garcia says it was important for the board to promulgate the rule first so that principals at each school would know what is expected from them going forward.
"I don't think anyone who goes to restrain a child is likely ill-intended, but if they're not properly trained, it can have unintended consequences—excessive trauma, physical trauma, and we want our children to feel emotionally and physically safe in our schools," Garcia says.