Vernon school board passes on policy

Vernon. The Vernon Township High School tabled a first reading on a policy regarding restraint and seclusion of special-needs students in emergency situations to address concerns and for details.

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The Vernon Township Board of Education passed on a first reading regarding a restraint and seclusion policy on April 17.

The school board had a draft policy prepared to be read, but the school board member Justin Annunziata asked for the motion to be tabled.

“There are things I’d like to see in the police are not there,” he said.

He also said he would like parents to be able to opt out, sparing their child the practice, and he also wanted regulation regarding the practice.

The practice of seclusion, which the state of New Jersey defines as “the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving”, is used when officials determine the child is a danger to either himself or others.

A state law was passed in January 2018 that establishing requirements for the use of restraint and seclusion with students with disabilities.

When seclusion is practiced, the student is put in a room without chairs or a desk and the door can be either locked or held shut while the student is supervised. Also if a student is restrained, by either a school official or a mechanical restraint, the parents are notified. State law does not require parental notification if a child is secluded.

School board member Theresa Scura Coughlan, the chairwoman of the Special Services committee said at the beginning of the discussion that voting on the police was premature, but voted against tabling the vote to discuss it further.

“I don’t believe the Special Services Committee has completed its work,” she said. “There are no regulations. There are no steps to follow through on. The committee has not been able to share its thoughts with the whole board.”

Coughlan also said the committee has not discussed the legal processes and she suggested a vote for the policy could indicate that school board members endorse the practice.

Several parents and other advocates came forward at the meeting, urging the Board of Education to vote against the policy.

“Seclusion can be a traumatizing event for a child,” parent Kelly Brooks said. “These children already struggled being in school. They need tools and resources to calm themselves down, not to be placed in solitary confinement.

Brooks said she is the parent of a child who has been on the receiving end of restraint and seclusion. She also is a member of the district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Group and an instructor for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“As my daughter would say, whether right or wrong, her brain said they were trying to hurt her. I know they were not trying to hurt her. They were trying to keep her safe.”

Shannon Irish, a district employee urged the board to use professional judgement and reason when making the decision and said personal feelings should not outweigh benefits to students.

She was the lone public voice for the policy, and she described a situation in which a student is kicking, screaming, throwing things and potentially injuring themselves and others.

She said without seclusion, they cannot protect other students.

“Putting them in a room with a door open is not going to help them,” she said. “Then it's going to be a struggle to leave the room. Our object is not to restrain children. we never want to put our hands on children, but when it becomes that emergent and they're safety and their classmates' safety is at hand, we must do it."

School board members Natalie Buccieri, board Vice President Lauren Karwoski Magee, Michael Peek, Joseph Sweeney and Annunziata voted to table to policy until later, while Mark Cilli, Coughlan, Kelly Mitchell and Board President Brad Sparta voted no.

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