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Spokane Public Schools to formally ban isolation, limit restraint

The Spokane Public School board will consider banning isolation, restraint later this month.
Rebecca White / SPR
The Spokane Public School board will consider banning isolation, restraint later this month.

The Spokane School Board will soon adopt new policies that explicitly ban isolation, and restrict the use of restraint.

The vote comes after a Department of Justice investigation found that more than 99% of students who had been isolated and restrained were children with disabilities. It also found the district was out of compliance with state law, and its own policies.

Under the new policy, isolating students, such as shutting them in a room without their consent, is never allowed. Restraint is allowed, with some new caveats.

Becky Ramsey, director of teaching and learning at Spokane Public Schools, said the new definition of restraint is any physical intervention that stops a student from moving freely. The policy also requires school staff to stop restraining students as soon as a less restrictive approach is available.

“I think that the biggest thing is that both the restraint devices, and the use of isolation are things that as a district, in practice, we have been eliminating, and this just memorializes that in writing,” Ramsey said.

She said this policy makes it clear that school employees aren’t allowed to handcuff, or bind students with zip ties. Employees also can’t use pepper spray on students.

She said the district will also full train employees on the new policies.

“All of our staff are aware that these changes are in place, and more directly, our special education staff administrators, paraeducators, will be receiving in-depth training at the start of next school year,” she said.

Katie Sutch is a parent, and guardian of five Spokane Public School students and member of the advocate group, Every Student Counts Alliance. She said she’s one of many parents of children of color, with disabilities, who worry about their safety while they are at school.

“Maybe now in this generation, it is about time to start looking at whether teachers are culturally competent, and understand disability, ableism, childhood trauma, because these kids are not like the kids of 20 years ago,” she said. “And so, I think that a lot of current teachers lack the proper tools to actually teach, and help these kids.”

She said the new policy could put the school district on the right path, but only if it’s paired with a culture change, and partnerships with community organizations with expertise on this issue.

“Change takes time, and it takes people willing to change,” she said. “And change hurts, and teachers are going to have to either decide if they want to keep teaching, or adjust to a new way of looking at kids.”

The school board is scheduled to adopt the new policy later this month.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.