By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- While the School Board will soon update its student restraint policy to comply with new state law, school officials say much of the practices now required are already in effect in Derry schools.
Restraint is defined as means for restricting a child’s physical movement to prevent him or her from either self-injuring or hurting others.
A new version of the restraint policy went before the board for a first reading last week and will be taken up for further consideration on Tuesday.
“This (policy) is far more prescriptive than anything the law was before,” said Derry Student Services Director Christopher Kellan at last week’s School Board meeting. “It was very vague and open ended before. We follow the practices, but we need to formalize them.”
While Kellan said that restraint is sometimes required in specialized education settings, it is rarely needed in the regular public school environment.
“Our general practice for any student that requires the routine use of physical restraint is that we’re unable to meet their needs in the public school setting,” Kellan said. “It’s something that requires such an excessive amount of training.”
Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon said that restraint in Derry schools is more often used to stop a student from banging his or her fists against a wall or to prevent a young child from running out of a school building.
And what starts as restraint many times transitions into comforting, Hannon said. The draft policy clarifies that physical restraint does not include holding a child to calm or comfort.
“Sometimes, especially for the little ones, the restraining becomes hugging or cradling when they are upset,” Hannon said. “It’s less of a physical restraint as much as a comfort for them.”
In a change under state law, a physical restraint may not exceed 15 minutes without the approval of a supervisory employee and may not exceed 30 minutes without a “faceto- face assessment” from someone trained to make assessments as to physical, mental and emotional well being.
Hannon said the district already has a general practice of not exceeding 15 minutes of restraint without calling for emergency medical services.
“If we’re going to restrain someone for that long, we call for support from an ambulance or from Parkland (Medical Center) because we don’t feel we are equipped to really assess the emotional stability of the student,” Hannon said.
Both the existing and draft restraint policies require that a parent or guardian be notified within 24 hours if restraint is used on a child, but Hannon said district staff would usually try to get a hold of parents during or immediately after an incident.
Within five business days of an instance of physical restraint, the policy would require a written report to be submitted to the superintendent. Within another two days, the superintendent would need to provide written notification to the parent or guardian.
Hannon said that restraint is only used in instances where a student is truly a risk to himself or others, and only after other verbal interventions.
“For the most part, if our kids are not getting harmed and if they are maybe just having a breakdown and trashing a room, we won’t be restraining them because they are only harming the room, not themselves or others,” she said. “But we still call emergency services if we can’t deescalate the situation.”
The School Board will take up the draft policy for a second reading at its meeting on March 1.