EDUCATION

Montgomery County schools restraint policy examined

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Marcu, 9, has Down Syndrome. His parents say he was thriving at Montgomery County's Burning Tree Elementary and many were impressed with his progress.

But things started to change in first grade. He had issues with impulse control and didn’t like people close to him.

Then one day last year in the school cafeteria, Marcu's frustration boiled over.

“He threw his pasta bowl and threw himself on the floor and tried to hit his head on the floor,” says Cami Fawzi, his mother.

Staff members jumped in, holding Marcu on the cafeteria floor. In a letter, the principal claims Marcu's "aggression toward staff escalated.... he was restrained by members of the crisis team for 45 minutes." That’s 15 minutes longer than state law allows.

“At the time he weighed 40 pounds. They had four adults holding his arms and legs. This is a child who can't speak, can't tell you what's going on in his mind,” says Mazen Fawzi, his father.

Marcu also has a heart condition, but his heart didn’t stop. His parents say he was wounded emotionally.

“He didn't feel safe going back to school,” Cami says.

A state investigation found several violations, including restraining Marcu too long, failing to prove physical restraint was warranted and not providing records showing staff members had the required training.

In fact, documents show there were at least 15 cases at Montgomery County Public Schools during the last school year where a child was restrained more than the maximum 30 minutes. Most of the cases involved children with behavioral issues at a special school called Rica that is designated for students with behavioral issues.

One student was restrained for almost two hours.

There were, however, hundreds of restraint cases during the last school year. Many were well below the 30 minute maximum.

But the records also claim the students continued to pose a threat by biting, kicking and grabbing.

There is an ongoing debate whether the school district's restraint policies should apply to students with these behavioral issues.

Associate superintendent for special education in Montgomery County Chris Richardson says district policy is to use restraint as a last resort.

“People aren't looking at restraint as the answer,” Richardson says. “It's quite the opposite.”

“You need to make sure children are safe and adults are safe," says Richardson.

At a new school Marcu is starting to be himself again.

“Step by step, he's coming back to us,” says Mazen. ”But he's not back yet. He's not back yet.”

The state acknowledges the Montgomery County School District is making positive changes with restraint training and policy. The district has until September 30th to prove it's in full compliance with the law.

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