The Hell Rooms of Calvert County Public Schools, Part II - The Policy Problem & The Numbers
“I did not know that we had a problem and now I do”, wrote Ms. Dawn Balinski, President of the Calvert County Board of Education. “If it is confirmed that we over-restrain/over-use seclusion in CCPS, then we will fix it.”
Ms. Balinski offered these words in a March 14, 2019 email to Guy Stephens, the father of a Calvert County Middle School student who is presently receiving “home & hospital instruction.” The Stephens story was first featured in Waller Squared Media Productions initial reporting on the issue of seclusion and restraint in Calvert County Public Schools. Mr. Stephens son, Cooper, has been unable to return to school due to trauma he experienced from incidents of seclusion and restraint, which allegedly occurred during his first fourteen days at Calvert Middle School.
I did not know that we had a problem and now I do”, wrote Ms. Dawn Balinski, President of the Calvert County Board of Education.
Waller Squared Media Productions investigation into this matter has revealed that the Stephens experience is not a unique or isolated experience in Calvert County, or other Maryland counties for that matter. The publication of our first article has resulted in a number of families from Southern Maryland (and beyond) contacting us and providing similar accounts.
Waller Squared has asked parents to provide documents or other evidence to support their allegations before we will report on their stories. We are presently reviewing hundreds of documents to further our investigative reporting on the practice of seclusion and restraint in Calvert County Public Schools.
Waller Squared has asked parents to provide documents or other evidence to support their allegations before we will report on their stories.
One parent of a former Calvert Country School student contacted Waller Squared and has already provided documentation of two restraint and seclusion reports school staff completed on her son, a special education student with disabilities. She has identified herself to Waller Squared, but has asked to not be publicly identified in this story. She alleges that the documents she has provided are only a couple examples of the frequent incidents of seclusion and restraint that she can prove her son experienced. Our investigation into her allegations is ongoing.
Waller Squared Media Productions investigation into this matter has revealed that the Stephens experience is not a unique or isolated experience in Calvert County, or other Maryland Counties for that matter.
The documents already in our possession indicate that on one day, from 8:45 AM until 9:48 AM, the child who was 6-years-old at the time, was physically restrained and transported to the seclusion room for “playing with light switches” in a hallway and because he “began to knock over chairs.” Later that very same day, from 12:05 PM until 1:20 PM, this child was again physically restrained and transported to the seclusion room for not cleaning up after himself when break time ended.
The teacher’s report indicates that a one minute timer was set when the child was told to clean up the toys. After one minute, when the child continued to throw toy blocks around the classroom, he was restrained and then secluded, for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Like other families reporting to us, this parent removed her child from Calvert County Public Schools and began homeschooling.
Later that very same day, from 12:05 PM until 1:20 PM, this child was again physically restrained and transported to the seclusion room for not cleaning up after himself when break time ended.
A March 13th report by WAMU on the practice of seclusion and restraint in Fairfax County, VA schools offered a description of seclusion rooms “that are built like Russian nesting dolls, rooms within a room.” In many ways, this same description describes the oversight and management structure of the American education system. The U.S. Department of Education establishes standards and provides guidance, which flows down to the State Departments of Education. From the State level, guidance and direction is given to the various County Boards of Education, who in turn provide direction to their respective schools.
On one hand, such a system can maximize resources and affords layers of oversight to assure that only the best practices are followed in our schools. On the other hand, Waller Squared’s investigation into this matter has identified that the message passed from one layer to the next isn’t always clear or accurate.
It is much like the grammar school exercise, where each child is instructed to repeat a message whispered in his ear. The lesson learned is that sometimes things get lost in translation. When the message is passed from one child to the next, it often arrives in the ear of the last child as a totally different message than that which was whispered by the first. This lesson, intended for school children, may have subsequently become lost on our school educators.
Our March 22ndreport on the practice of seclusion and restraint in Calvert County Public Schools brought to light a school system policy and practice that is not in line with Maryland law. Maryland law prohibits the restraint and forced seclusion of a student, unless the student’s actions pose a risk to life and limb. Maryland law calls such a risk “imminent, serious, physical harm.” Calvert County’s policy allows staff to physically restrain students and force them into seclusion rooms for much lesser behaviors.
Waller Squared Media Productions has obtained copies of several reports completed by staff at Calvert Middle School, revealing the practice of seclusion and restraint upon a special education student for “splashing water” and other similar behaviors, – behaviors that do not appear to place anyone at risk of “imminent, serious, physical harm.”
Parents with whom we have communicated believe that Calvert County’s policy on seclusion and restraint is the cause for such high reported numbers of the practice in the county, as compared to the rest of Maryland. A December 2018 report by the Maryland State Department of Education may support the parents’ position.
A graph created from the Maryland State Department of Education reported data showing the number of physical restraint incidents in the county as compared to total enrollment.
A graph created from the Maryland State Department of Education reported data showing the number of physical seclusion incidents in the county as compared to total enrollment.
Statistics from nationwide data indicate that children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the practices of restraint and seclusion. According to an article on Disability Scoop, “the vast majority of the estimated 122,000 students restrained or secluded at school had disabilities, the Education Department said. Children served under IDEA represented 71 percent of those restrained and 66 percent of kids subject to seclusion.”
We have submitted three separate requests to the Calvert County Public Schools, pursuant to the provisions of the Maryland Public Information Act. We have requested to inspect, among other documents, the school system’s records related to the adoption of a policy that does not comply with the restrictions established under State law, adhering to an “imminent, serious, physical harm” standard. We also have an interview scheduled with Superintendent Dr. Daniel Curry.
While we await the school systems response to our requests, our investigation continues. Through this continued investigation, Waller Squared has uncovered a document, published by the Maryland State Department of Education, that may very well explain how Calvert County came to adopt a policy that violates State law. And our discovery could have statewide ramifications.
Waller Squared has uncovered a document, published by the Maryland State Department of Education, that may very well explain how Calvert County came to adopt a policy that violates State law.
In September of 2012, the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services, published “Technical Assistance Bulletin 18” on the use of exclusion, restraint and seclusion. This document, intended to provide guidance to Maryland schools on the practice of seclusion and restraint, appears to have misquoted the Code of Maryland Administrative Regulations (COMAR). In this technical assistance bulletin, the Maryland State Department of Education instructs that seclusion may be practiced “In an emergency situation in order to protect the student or another person after other less intrusive interventions have failed or been determined to be inappropriate.”
This is the same exact language as is found in Calvert County Public School’s policy. It too is missing the “imminent, serious, physical harm” standard that is included in and mandated by State regulations. Could it be that Calvert County has unlawfully physically restrained and forcefully secluded special education children because that is exactly what the Maryland State Department of Education had guided them to do in 2012? We hope to be able to answer that question when we receive the records we have requested from the Calvert County Public School system.
Could it be that Calvert County has unlawfully physically restrained and forcefully secluded special education children because that is exactly what the Maryland State Department of Education had guided them to do in 2012?
Even if it is the case that Calvert County was acting on the 2012 guidance from the State, both the U.S. Department of Education and the Maryland State Department of Education have published numerous guidance documents on the issue since “Technical Assistance Bulletin 18” was published in 2012.
In fact, in January of this year U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education will launch an initiative to address the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in our nation’s schools.
Calvert County updated its policy on seclusion and restraint in 2013 and again in 2017. The school system missed those opportunities to recognize and remedy this error in the policy, an error that may account for the fact that Calvert County is second in the State (by percentage) for practicing seclusion and restraint on its students.
A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan congressional investigative agency, counted hundreds of cases of abuse, include at least 20 deaths related to the practice of seclusion and restraint in U.S. schools. In testimony before Congress, the GAO provided examples of cases they studied.
Just as the U.S. Department of Education has done, the State of Maryland has worked to ensure that students are not subjected to acts of restraint and seclusion unless appropriate and necessary. In September of 2017, the States Task Force on Restraint and Seclusion issued a report of recommendations.
The report reads: “The most significant recommendation of the Task Force involves the circumstances in which restraint and seclusion shall be prohibited. There was agreement that restraint and seclusion are crisis-oriented responses, but also concern that such responses may be used in lieu of less intrusive interventions once added to a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or individualized education program (IEP). To avoid that result in the BIP or IEP, the Task Force recommends revising the regulation so that physical restraint and seclusion are prohibited in public agencies and nonpublic schools unless there is an emergency situation and such responses are necessary to protect a student or other person from imminent, serious, physical harm [emphasis added] after less intrusive interventions have failed or been determined inappropriate.”
According to the Task Force report, “The Restraint and Seclusion Task Force was comprised of 29 members from Maryland public schools, nonpublic schools, and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). The Task Force was co-chaired by Mary Gable, Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Student, Family, and School Support and Academic Policy and Deborah Nelson, Section Chief for School Safety and Climate and Specialist for School Psychological Services.”
Calvert County had a representative serve on the Task Force. He was one of just 29 experts who provided recommendations to the State on when seclusion and restraint should NOT be practiced. Waller Squared has obtained and reviewed the minutes of the multiple meetings of this Maryland State Taskforce. The requirement of imminent, serious, physical harm was addressed multiple times in the minutes, and in the final report.
Waller Squared Media Productions has obtained copies of a written report involving the very same Calvert County educator who served on this State Task Force, practicing seclusion and restraint upon a special education student at Calvert Middle School for behaviors that do not appear to rise to the level of “imminent, serious, physical harm.”
Waller Squared Media Productions has obtained copies of a written report involving the very same educator who served on this State Task Force, practicing seclusion and restraint upon a special education student at Calvert Middle School for behaviors that do not appear to rise to the level of “imminent, serious, physical harm.”
Our investigation and reporting will continue. In future articles, we will expand on other aspects of Calvert County Public Schools policies and procedures that are not aligned with Maryland regulations.
———————————————————-Mr. Guy Stephens and Cooper have consented to being identified in this report.
About the author: Brian Waller is a retired police administrator, crisis intervention, Mental Health First Aid and law enforcement use-of-force instructor. At one time a criminal investigator, he now applies those same skills and professional standards towards investigative reporting, presenting cases in the court of public opinion.
Brian does not conduct for-hire private investigations; rather, he follows tips and leads to conduct pro bono public investigation on issues of significance to local communities. He writes about his findings through the honed craft of advocacy journalism. Brian does not get paid for conducting investigations or writing articles, – putting the “free” in freelance reporting. He co-manages Waller Squared Media Productions, LLC with Robert Waller, and may be reached at @
Brian Waller is a member of the U.S. Press Association as well as the Constitution First Amendment Press Association.
[Submitted by Brian Waller]
An introduction to the issue of seclusion & restraint in Calvert County Public Schools
In the third story in the series, the Superintendent of Calvert County Schools responds, - and he confirms our findings
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