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FCPS expands ban on restraints, set to fully end student seclusions

Fairfax County Public Schools will end the use of seclusion at Key Center School in Franconia and Kilmer Center in Dunn Loring with the 2022-2023 school year (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County Public Schools will officially end the use of seclusion as a tool for managing student behavior when the next school year begins on Aug. 22.

The practice of confining a student to a room is already prohibited in most schools, but the Fairfax County School Board approved an update on March 10 that expands the ban to include the Key Center School, Kilmer Center, and private day and residential schools, starting with the 2022-2023 school year.

Key Center in Franconia serves students with intellectual disabilities, severe disabilities, and autism, while Kilmer Center, located in Dunn Loring, is for students aged 5 to 21 with severe disabilities and autism. Their enrollment for the current school year is 60 and 62 students, respectively.

Adopted without discussion as part of the board’s consent agenda, the updated policy follows through on the commitment that FCPS made in November to settle a lawsuit filed by the families of six students with disabilities and advocacy organizations.

As part of that settlement, FCPS also agreed to a blanket prohibition on all physical restraints “that create a high risk of injury, including prone, supine, and floor restraints and chokeholds.”

The school system’s existing policy, which took effect on Dec. 17, 2020, banned all mechanical and pharmacological, or medication-based, restraints. The revised version more explicitly states that this includes restraints that put students on the floor or in prone or supine positions.

It also prohibits the “use of restraint or seclusion in any manner that is life-threatening, restricts breathing, or restricts blood flow to the brain.”

FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult says the school system anticipates “the impact of these changes to be minimal,” since the use of seclusion and restraints was mostly phased out during the 2020-2021 school year.

“We do anticipate some adjustments for our current students receiving services through private day and residential schools, but we are in close communication with those sites regarding this policy,” Moult said.

According to Moult, 139 students are currently enrolled in public day programs and 233 in private day or residential schools that have contracts with FCPS, as of December of 2021.

The updated policy states that FCPS will not contract with private schools that permit restraint and seclusion once the 2022-2023 school year starts, but students currently placed at schools that use those practices can choose to stay there at a student, parent, or guardian’s request.

FCPS started overhauling its restraint and seclusion policy after the radio station WAMU reported in March 2019 that the school system was significantly underreporting how often the practices were being used on children with disabilities. Some incidents resulted in injuries, hospitalization and students leaving their schools.

The report prompted an investigation by FCPS and the lawsuit filed in October 2019 by families of students with disabilities, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and CommunicationFIRST.

Since then, FCPS says it has been regularly updating school staff on “proactive practices to reduce behavior concerns” using MANDT, Professional Crisis Management, and Ukeru — professional development programs that provide crisis management training focused on de-escalation and trauma-informed techniques.

With the updated policy, the school system also says staff will be trained to not seek assistance from a school resource officer in a situation requiring a student to be restrained unless no other certified personnel are available and a police officer’s involvement is necessary “to prevent imminent serious injury.”

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