Tooele teachers will soon have a definition as to when it’s appropriate to use reasonable “force” to maintain order in the classroom.
A policy governing the use of reasonable force, seclusion and restraint by school staff, was one of six new or revised policies reviewed by the Tooele County School Board at its Sept. 10 meeting.
Other policies considered at the September board meeting include how a large-scale reduction in school employees would be accomplished. A group of four policies relating to school financial procedures, including one on school fundraisers, were also assessed.
New or revised school policies are generally placed on the school board’s agenda three times and are approved after the third reading, according to Scott Rogers, Tooele County School District superintendent.
The policy on the use of reasonable force, seclusion, and restraint of students was a new policy. It was introduced at last week’s meeting for the first time.
The idea for the new policy came about after a systematic review of the district’s policy manual, which is part of a continuing practice to improve policies and procedures, according to Rogers.
“The policy on reasonable use of restraint and seclusion came from recommendations made by myself and Hal Strain, Special Education director, as we looked at model policies in Utah,” said Rogers. “This is about best practices for all students and not about any specific student or incident.”
The policy defines reasonable force as the degree of physical force necessary to maintain a safe and orderly teaching environment. Force should not be used as the usual method of classroom management, but may be used when necessary and should be discontinued when a safe and orderly teaching environment is restored, according to the proposed policy.
Restraint involves the use of physical force to restrict free movement of all or part of a student’s body.
Physical contact for the purpose of instruction, guiding the movement of a student to ensure safety, or briefly holding a student to prevent an impulsive behavior that threatens a student’s immediate safety are allowed by the new policy. However, they are not considered as the use of restraint or reasonable force, and do not require reporting or documentation.
Seclusion, defined as the removal of a student to a room designed for total social isolation, is prohibited by the policy.
Aaron Fergusson, who posted a video on YouTube in April 2013 of his son allegedly being thrown out of a Stansbury High School classroom and forcibly escorted down the hall by a paraeducator, commented on the new use of reasonable force policy during the school board meeting.
Fergusson, whose son has autism, was pleased with the prohibition of seclusion but wanted the policy to go further to protect students from the use of force.
“Let’s go further than outdated Utah laws,” he said. “Physical restraint should be restricted to imminent threats to the safety of students or others. Restraint should not be used for disruptive behavior.”
The board chose not to make changes to the policy at this time, but to wait and see what changes the district’s legal counsel suggests during the policy’s second reading.
In other business, the school board also took a second look at revisions to the district’s reduction in force policy.
The RIF policy would go into effect as the result of large layoffs due to a drop in the number of students enrolled, school consolidation, the reduction of a specific program or service, or a shortage of revenue.
The state legislature in 2011 passed a bill that prohibited school districts from using a last-hired, first fired policy as part of a reduction in force policy.
The new legislation required a change in the Tooele School District policy that included seniority in the RIF policy.
The new policy strikes the reference to seniority and allows the district to consider the personnel needs of the district, employee evaluations, program enrollments, endorsements, certifications, specialized experience, professional experience and accomplishments.
It also takes into consideration district goals in the determination of teachers to be laid off as the result of a RIF.
“What this means is that any future RIF will be declared and a rubric or sorts will be used to determine the individuals affected. Seniority will no longer be the main codetermining factor,” said Rogers. “In essence, employees with poor performance ratings will be considered in RIF prior to those with effective or highly effective ratings.”
This was the third reading for the RIF policy. The policy will be reviewed and voted upon at the next school board meeting.
The school board also looked at four model policies on cash receipts, cash disbursements, donations, and fundraising for the second time.
The model policies were developed by the Utah School Board Association in response to revisions in changes in financial rules for school districts adopted by the Utah State School Board.
The new policies do not mean substantial changes for the Tooele County School District, according to Rogers.
“I see this as a tightening up of financial procedures and safeguards rather than significant changes,” he said. “The goal is to protect public funds that we have been trusted with, as well as to safeguard personnel and programs.”
The model policy, which will be modified to fit local circumstances, improves documentation and cash handling procedures at schools and for fundraisers. The policy clarifies issues as to when a group or activity is school sponsored.
The policy limits elementary schools to two fundraisers each year and places no limits on secondary school fundraisers. Secondary school fundraisers, however, will require the approval of the building principal, the school’s community council, and the designated assistant superintendent.
This was the second reading for the financial policies. Changes discussed at the board meeting will be incorporated into the third reading of the policies and voted on at a future board meeting.
The school district’s proposed changes and new district polices may be found on the district’s website at www.tooeleschools.org, under the “public information” tab and then scrolling down and selecting “policy for review.”
Parents, employees, and members of the public may submit comments on the policies by sending an email to policy@ tooeleschools.org.