Massachusetts became one of the few states in the country to confront the issue of how students can be physically restrained when the state Board of Education adopted new guidelines Feb. 27, but the proposal has earned mixed reviews from advocates for the most vulnerable students.
A law passed by the Legislature ordered the board to develop regulations governing all of the state’s school districts in the wake of school-by-school policies that have produced injuries and lawsuits.
Advocates for the state’s neediest students fear the new policy opens the door to misuse and corporal punishment. But educators who reviewed the proposals said the state has crafted a careful set of guidelines that will promote training of school personnel and establish when physical restraint should be used.
Restraints would follow a series of verbal orders, referred to as the process of “descalation.” In the case of a child restrained for more than five minutes, the incident would be reported to the state.
Board of Education Chairman James A. Peyser said the policy is not expected to encourage the use of physical restraint. Instead, it places limits and definitions on its use.
“The regulations are clear that there has to be an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the student himself, other students or teachers and staff,” said Peyser. “It’s only supposed to be used under extreme conditions.”