Don and Tina King may finally see something positive come from their son’s death.
Jonathan King was 13 when he hanged himself inside a “seclusion room” at a Gainesville school for special needs children in 2004.
The unfurnished, 8-foot-by-8-foot room at the Alpine Psychoeducational Program was used for handling unruly children. The Kings continue to say they never saw the room until his death and that school officials didn’t tell them how often or for how long he was placed in the room.
On Wednesday, the state Board of Education held a public hearing on a proposal to change seclusion and restraint for all students in Georgia public schools. The proposal prohibits the use of seclusion and largely limits the use of restraint, except in cases in which students are a danger to themselves. Physical restraint cannot be used as a form of discipline or punishment.
At the public hearing, 33 people spoke in favor of the rule, and no one spoke in opposition. A large group of the supporters were from the “Safe Schools Initiative” — made up of the Georgia Advocacy Office, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University, Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia and Parent to Parent of Georgia.
The Kings, who now live in Dahlonega, attended and were pleased about the possibilities but still have a few suggestions.
“The main problem with the rule is the data aspect,” Don King told The Times after the hearing. “It doesn’t require schools to record what’s going on. If we had known what was going on with Jonathan, we would have made arrangements to help him.”
After their son died, the couple found that he was placed in the room many times and for different amounts of time, one time up to eight hours. On Wednesday, the Kings told their story and think they appealed to the board members.
The proposal also states that schools using physical restraint must define procedures, give training to staff and notify parents if their child is restrained.
“We want to make sure that if any school is going to use restraints, teachers and anyone who comes in contact with the students need to be properly trained,” Don King said. “Parents need to be notified, and the rule needs to be heavily enforced if it passes.”
The proposal may be “one of the strongest in the country,” Eric Jacobson, executive director for the Georgia Council on Developmental
Disabilities, told The Times after the hearing.
“The board has taken some strong leadership around this issue,” he said. “It’s a positive step for Georgia to be taking. However, there needs to be some additions around collecting data and analyzing and enforcing what’s taking place.”
Jacobson seemed confident the board will pass the decision, especially after 33 people showed up for the hearing in support.
“I think it’s a pretty good indication that the folks out there who have an eye out on this are saying it’s an important move,” he said.
“Some people believe the only way to address behaviorally challenged students is to use different types of restraints, but we know there are a lot of options and alternatives.”
These options include positive behavioral supports, which are often derived on an individual student basis.
“It may be as simple as holding a kid’s hand that calms the child down or using a calmer voice to de-escalate the behavior taking place,” he said. “It’s like being at home with your own kids. You have to think about the best approach, and it’s often not about force or control or power. It’s about understanding what’s going on with the child.”
If the ruling passes in July, the council will help with the data collection for how, when and where restraint is used in schools.
“It’s not an easy 1-2-3 kind of thing to get schools to collect data,” Jacobson said. “You have to develop an approach to get the information in a timely manner and be able to use it with transparency so mom and dad can see what’s going on with their children or the feds can understand what’s going on in the school.”
The council also plans to work with school systems to train teachers about the changes.
“Teachers are there to teach. They don’t want to be in a position to have to restrain or seclude a kid. They want to teach,” Jacobson said. “But until we provide them with the tools, they may rely on bad approaches to de-escalate behavior rather than good ones.”
The public has the opportunity to provide written comment via e-mail to the board at email@example.com before it votes July 5.
“We want to make sure this never happens to anybody else’s child or to anyone as it did to us for the last six years,” Don King said. “All we have now is good memories and Jonathan’s picture.”