Schools’ Restraint Numbers Trending Downward, Says Special Ed. Director

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

Three-hundred-seventy instances of student restraint were executed in the last year across the Haverhill Public Schools system, but the number indicates a four-year downward trend, according to Special Education Director Pamela McDonald.

At Thursday night’s School Committee meeting, McDonald delivered an update on the various de-escalation techniques used across the school system as the district shifts from previous restraint tactics to what McDonald calls “safety care training” and “trauma-informed teaching.”

McDonald explained the methods behind such techniques, saying that she prefers the term ‘protective hold’ instead of ‘restraint.’ What happens when a child is so agitated, that they begin to act out and threaten the classroom environment? “The state is very clear on this: A student can only be restrained if they are a danger to themselves and others. It’s a mind shift we had to go through as a district: If they’re throwing a computer, we can’t restrain them. That is the state law.”

Through the new methodology, McDonald explains, the school system has been able to cut the number of restraint instances from over 300 to just over 70. McDonald calls such an achievement “huge.”

The instances of restraints mostly happened at the elementary and middle school level, McDonald said. Very few took place at Haverhill High School.

While the numbers were encouraging to the Committee, McDonald’s explanation of exactly why, how and when a student is restrained left the group with mouths agape.

“What happens when a kid decides to take a chair and destroy a million dollars worth of computer equipment? What can you do?” wondered committee chair Mayor James J. Fiorentini. McDonald’s response? Not much.

Haverhill Police have school resource officers posted at Haverhill High School, Consentino and Nettle Middle Schools. Those officers are not subject to the same restraint protocol as the administration, McDonald told the Committee.

Training for teachers and administrators is provided with guidance through the McLean Hospital during a four-day program, McDonald said. At least one person in each school building is expected to be trained in what’s called “safety care training” later this summer before the start of the new school year.

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