Indiana considers policy for child restraint in schools

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Isolation and "hands on" restraint techniques in Indiana schools are under scrutiny.

A new commission is laying the groundwork for policies that could impact every student in the state.

13 Investigates shows you why educators and child advocates are drawing a line between unruly and dangerous behavior.

"They were hysterical. They weren't dangerous. They needed to be comforted," said Joan McCormick, an educator who knows what it's like to restrain a child at school.

But McCormick's hands-on approach is nothing like the troubling cases Indiana educators, and child advocates are wrestling against.

Sen. Randy Head (R-District 18) heard about one disturbing case, which is outlined in a lawsuit against Wayne Township Schools.

"Physical harm coming to a student who lost a finger," is how Sen. Head characterized the case.

According to the lawsuit, a student known only as C.M. was having "difficulty understanding fractions."

After bolting for the exit doors, the student was "escorted and confined to the school's Isolation room."

There a team of six adults restrained the child. Once released, staff observed the student"rushing the door." That's when a staff member "slams the heavy metal door shut, trapping C.M's left hand middle finger," causing it to be "amputated."

"Those kinds of situations are exactly what the commission is dealing with," said Sen. Head, who authored Senate Bill 345. That bill resulted in the Commission on Seclusion and Restraint.

While school is out, the commission is packing in around the table trying to establish guidelines for schools statewide, on how to handle children with serious behavioral issues.

The goal is to allow teachers traditional "time out" tools like the sensory room at Mount Comfort Elementary to address routine disciplinary problems, but ensuring schools have safe plans for more violent encounters.

"This is more of an imminent threat with a child with severe behavioral needs. So to me this is very different from the typical time out: 'Calm down you're upset and sad, please sit in the reading corner,'" explained Danielle Shockey, Indiana's Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"When it's done wrong, even though that's rare, it can be very dangerous, and that's the kind of danger we're trying to prevent," added Sen. Head.

It's also about proper training, including steps to keep teachers and staff from acting out of frustration.

13 Investigates first highlighted the issue of child restraint in February. Eight-year-old Shaylyn Searcy's shoes were painfully duct taped to her feet and ankles after she refused to put them on.

"No Tape! No don't touch me. Right?" said an animated Shaylyn Searcy, who has Down Syndrome. "That's bad." Shaylyn told 13 Investigates in an exclusive interview a day after her ordeal, as her mom nodded her head in approval.

The commission's next goal is to hear from parents who live with the behavioral issues everyday.

Recommendations are expected by the end of August. Schools will have until the 2014-2015 school year to implement changes.