Durham County

Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools ban teachers’ holding students face-down on the floor

“There are less dangerous ways to restrain a person who is having a crisis and is a danger to himself or others,” Kristine Sullivan, Disability Rights NC senior attorney.
“There are less dangerous ways to restrain a person who is having a crisis and is a danger to himself or others,” Kristine Sullivan, Disability Rights NC senior attorney. MCT

Three more North Carolina school systems have banned the use of prone restraint on distressed students, including those with developmental disabilities, mental illness or behavior problems.

Prone restraint is when a student is held face-down on the floor, usually when he or she is having a behavioral crisis, Disability Rights NC said in a news release. The restraint can pose a risk of “severe injury or even death for the student,” according to the release.

“There are less dangerous ways to restrain a person who is having a crisis and is a danger to himself or others,” Kristine Sullivan, the group’s senior attorney, said in the release. “With proper training, staff in schools can make sure everyone, including the person in crisis, is safe.”

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Johnston County and Cumberland County school districts joined the Asheville City, Transylvania County and Tyrrell County school districts as the only districts in the state to implement such a ban.

Behavioral problems run the gamut of classroom disturbances, including even an isolated scuffle, and the seclusion and restraint laws cover all students.

But, whether or not a ban applies to all adults within a school, or only to a school’s employees, must be determined on a case-by-case basis, Sullivan said .

“It is not clear, at this point, how the policies will apply to school resource officers because they are not technically school employees,” she said. “We would have to look at each individual district's policy to see if it applies to any person who is in the school building or just school employees.”

In 2012, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services banned prone restraint in all state-run and contracted facilities that provide mental health, developmental disability or substance use services, according to Disability NC.

State lawmakers have not enforced a similar ban across all school systems.

The 2012 ban only applies to facilities overseen by Health and Human Services, which excludes schools’ exceptional children classrooms which are all overseen by the Department of Public Instruction.

State law requires school districts to offer de-escalation training and also training about seclusion and restraint, Sullivan said.

“Most school districts do have some sort of requirement that their special education teachers must take a deescalation training,” she said “Some districts have it so that anyone who might be involved with the restraint must take training.”

Some school districts require schools to have crisis teams, and others allow non-educators to quell disturbances. For instance, a custodian can break up a fight in the hallway.

After receiving parental complaints, last year Disability Rights NC launched investigations into the Johnson County and Cumberland County school districts.

As the state’s Protection and Advocacy agency, Disability Rights NC investigated and its findings, “prompted the administrations of both districts to change their policies and ban the use of prone restraint.”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

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