Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Inconsistent training leaves special education staff struggling | EdSource

Inconsistent training leaves special education staff struggling | EdSource:

Inconsistent training leaves special education staff struggling

 Every day in special education classrooms across the state, teachers and aides oversee students whose emotional and behavioral disabilities can trigger violent confrontations. In some cases, teachers and aides wrestle these students to the floor, pin them against classroom walls, and escort or drag them into seclusion rooms.

Operating outside the restrictions of general education, special education staff are authorized by the California Education Code to declare a “behavioral emergency.” That determination allows staff members to initiate emergency interventions that are defined only by what they may not be: electric shock, denying access to bathroom facilities, noxious sprays to the face, and interventions that can be expected to cause excessive emotional trauma.
In 696 behavioral emergency reports from 2011-12, the latest data available, obtained through public records requests and analyzed by EdSource Today, narratives describe intense physical and emotional battles between special education staff and students, with both sides reporting cuts, bruises and injuries. Students punch staff members, run out of classrooms or bang their heads against walls or cabinets, according to the reports, which are the most recent available. In turn, staff members may attempt to calm students through conversation but often end up physically restraining students or isolating students in rooms that they cannot leave, known as seclusion.
Debate is fierce over whether restraint and seclusion practices should be allowed in special education, with some administrators, teachers and aides arguing that they cannot do their jobs without the techniques. But investigations, including a 2009 Congressional report, have documented egregious misuse of the practices nationwide, and special education advocates say that skillful use of behavior management strategies, and appropriate placements, would make restraint and seclusion unnecessary.
Yet both sides agree on one point: The key to reducing the use of restraint and seclusion is to provide staff with intensive training.
Teachers and aides “should be experts,” said Eric Richards, a special education teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District.
Teachers and aides “should be experts,” said Eric Richards, a special education teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District who has been in the field for more than 15 years.
Instead, the least-experienced staff often serve the most challenging students in California, according to interviews with special education teachers, administrators, advocates and parents across the state. In nearly all of the 696 incidents analyzed, instructional aides, who are typically the least-trained staff members in a classroom, were involved in restraining or secluding students.
The techniques carry significant risks. “The use of restraint and seclusion can have very serious consequences, including, most tragically, death,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in 2012.
Students who are restrained or secluded fall into two general categories: nonverbal children with autism or intellectual disabilities, and students diagnosed with an emotional disturbance, whose definition includes an inability to get along with peers and “a pervasive mood of unhappiness.”
But finding experienced special education teachers and aides who are well trained in behavioral management can be difficult. The state has faced an acute shortage of special education teachers for decades, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And special education teachers leave the profession at nearly twice the rate of general education teachers, according to the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services.
More than any other area of K-12 education, special education classrooms rely on relatively low-paid and often part-time staff – classroom aides, instructional assistants and entry-level counselors – to work closely with students. Instructional aide positions generally require a high school diploma and, in some cases, passing a test of basic math and writing skills, although some private special education schools require a Inconsistent training leaves special education staff struggling | EdSource: