Report recommends delaying prone restraint banby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota Department of Education report, put together with help from educators, school officials and mental health experts, is recommending schools be allowed to continue the use of a controversial physical restraint, used to subdue or calm agitated students, until 2017.
Current state law would ban the practice, called prone restraint, this August.
Some advocates of disabled children worry the move puts students in danger. Almost like a wrestling hold, it is used on students who threaten to hurt themselves or someone else.
Often used on children with severe mental health disabilities, it involves grabbing a student's hands and feet and holding the student face down on the floor.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said school officials don't want to use prone restraint, but sometimes it's their only option.
"We have situations where children really become a danger to themselves or others and something has to be done," she said. "They might have tried other things, and nothing's working, and you need to keep that child safe."
Several states have already banned prone restraints because of deaths or injuries primarily due to a student's breathing being restricted. There have been no such reports in Minnesota.
According to state law, school staff members using prone restraint cannot sit or lie on top of a student or do anything to restrict their breathing.
Dan Stewart, an attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center, still worries for the safety of students, especially those who are overweight or have asthma.
"Sometimes even when the procedure is done exactly right there is still stress put on the body and that has an effect on breathing," Stewart said.
Last year, school officials in Minnesota used the method 1,756 times, according to a report to lawmakers this week by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Often prone restraints are used several times during a single incident before a student calms down.
Those cases involved only 256 students in the entire state. Six students make up a quarter of the incidents.
Most of the time the hold is used in the state's intermediate districts, which serve special education students, some of whom suffer mental illnesses that contribute to behavioral problems.
Abderholden said the fact that prone restraint is being used on a small group of students over and over points to a problem.
"What that tells us is that children need more than what we're giving them," she said.
Nevertheless, Abderholden favors continued use of prone restraints, at least for the next few years.
During that time she wants educators and lawmakers to come up with new ways to handle out-of-control students. Instead of physically restraining students, she wants to see early interventions, methods to calm students before physical restraint is necessary.
Stewart also wants to see other methods used. But he would rather the state end the use of prone restraints now instead of waiting four years.
"There needs to be other models that are more focused on prevention rather than going to restraint or seclusion," Stewart said.
Current Minnesota law prohibits the use of prone restraints after Aug. 1 of this year.
For the method to continue until 2017 as the Department of Education report suggests, lawmakers would need to change state statute this session.