Monday, August 4, 2014

Planned Statement on Restraint and Seclusion to the Bellevue School District

Hello, my name is Eric Warwick and I will be the President of both the Disabled Abled Coalition and Gay Straight Alliance at Sammamish High School starting this fall, and I am here to talk about policy 3246. I have given you a short packet of information about restraint and seclusion policy in regards to our school district and resources from local and national disability rights organizations. Because of the importance of your decisions and the affects it can have on students in your district, I hope you will take the time to read it. It also contains information on organizations you can contact to help shape your policies and how they executed by teachers (in regards to what your procedures should be).
My testimony today will have three parts—clarification of my earlier testimonies from the last two meetings, pointing out what I have felt has made an unwelcoming environment to speak on this issue, and a piece of analysis that although not mentioned yet should be. I promise to keep it to 5 minutes.

First, a clarification: in my previous two statements I made comments about throwing pen caps and biting skin as examples of what could get a child restrained under this policy. This was, in retrospect unsurprisingly, met with incredulity. I should have been clearer and I am sorry. The reason I used these examples is because I know first-hand that they can lead to the use of restraint and seclusion. For the first one, that happened 4 years ago at Odle Middle School; it was labelled assaulting a teacher. I was expelled temporarily. (Not sure how that's substantively different from suspension, but not the point.) 

Now, in regards to de-escalation tactics being a requirement in policy 3246 and the additional safeguard of 3247, I appreciate it since in that class I had an IEP communicating my sensory needs, I had communicated my sensory needs for a month, had cried from noise and harassment for a month every day, and had communicated that day my sensory needs. They were clearly not met. De-escalation tactics were never used. I got restrained despite never presenting a clear and present danger to anyone. As you can imagine by my digression, I become very emotional when speaking about this. [pause]

Another thing I seek to clarify is the borderline offensive idea that there is a great deal of transparency in our special education programs. I do recognize that I do not have the means nor the resources for a study on it like the Bellevue School District does, but I know anecdotally that a significant number of parents and students feel that information is withdrawn, misstated, or brought with a great deal of hyperbole to justify disproportional actions of teachers. As a student with an IEP plan, this has been frustrating for me and has been severely damaging to me and my ability to learn from and trust my teachers. I can think of one very relevant example to this legislation that exemplifies the strange, disproportionate response to inappropriate student actions. Around five years ago, I remember a student in the Cascade program being expelled from Odle Middle School for quote “significant damage to public property.” He ripped snowflakes from a decorative poster put up by our teachers to celebrate winter. Obviously, this is not significant damage to public property; this was a trumped up charge by our special education teachers. This would be what I am talking about. Special education is not transparent. It is anything but.

I feel these flippant statements and unsympathetic attitudes have discouraged many parents of special needs children from going to any more meetings and sharing necessary information. It has also made it more difficult for me to say with a straight face to other Disabled students I know who have been restrained and secluded: "yes, it is worth it to talk to them. You will not be condescended to nor you possibly become emotionally triggered at the meeting" or even simply "there will be a welcoming, non-hostile environment." It has become increasingly difficult for me to bother devoting time to this issue as well. The only thing that allows me to justify the panic attacks I have from thinking of this issue, the lingering senses of worthlessness, and a severe degradation of my mental health is the knowledge that, yes, maybe I got out and maybe I’m no longer hurt by an unjust system, but people I know and care about are still being restrained, still being secluded. I cannot sit idly by while that happens, and from my perspective of the law proposed,—one that comes from personal experience as well as careful studying of policy—for the people most affected, this reform will not make any difference.

The Bellevue School District should not be discouraging people with experience and necessary insight into its policies from speaking about them. That is completely antithetical to any of the ideals of good government I learned this year in AP US History. It is also antithetical to the values that the Bellevue School District strives to: vision, accountability, structure, and advocacy.

I am a firm believer in the phrase “nothing about us without us” which comes from the Disability Rights Movement. When you speak about me and my issues, I deserve a seat at the table as an equal—just as any other person affected by your policies on restraint, seclusion, and the transparency for it does and I definitely do not deserve the treatment I have been given. It is difficult for me to come up here and not be overly emotional. Thankfully I learned the ability to feign calmness for fear of consequences in the seclusion rooms and under physical restraints when I was 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12. This is an issue with real effects. Board President McConnell, you know that full well with your son. The states of Hawaii and New Hampshire already have banned this practice. I implore all of you on the board: ban restraint and seclusion in all cases and be leaders as the Bellevue School District always has been.

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