A Maryland County Sets Out to Reduce Restraint & Seclusion

Nestled along the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland, Calvert County enrolls about 16,000 students across its 24 public schools every year—and at least 9% of them have special needs. Like many U.S. school districts, it has historically included seclusion and restraint in its toolbox when working with aggressive students. However, for the last two years, it has been on a mission to minimize, if not eliminate, these approaches.

The district’s Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Diane Workman, questioned her fellow administrators about the county’s use of coercive behavior techniques. As a former special education teacher and Director of Special Education for a neighboring county, she understood the effects such methods can have and wanted to explore alternatives.

In late 2018, the issue was brought to the forefront when the Maryland Department of Education released a report that included restraint and seclusion data from schools across the state. They were surprised to find that, during the 2017-2018 school year, Calvert County had used these techniques more than almost any other district in Maryland.

“It ultimately took the data from that report to make us say, ‘Yes. We really need to do something about this,’” remembers Diane. “The superintendent has always been in favor of attempts to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion, so we had support to develop a plan and start a working group.”

In early 2019, school district administrators got to work. They started by assembling a committee of stakeholders, including central office staff, school-based staff, parents from the community, administrators, teachers, and psychologists. Members spent months reviewing data, scrutinizing policies and procedures, and poring over restraint and seclusion forms. Administrators also took immediate steps to improve data tracking, increase teacher training, and reinforce the message that restraint should only be used as a last resort.

One parent in the working group, Guy Stephens, had an additional suggestion: Try Ukeru®.

Guy learned about Ukeru after his teenage son, Cooper, experienced both restraint and seclusion at Calvert County Middle School in 2018. He says the experience was so traumatic to Cooper—who is on the Autism spectrum and suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a social anxiety disorder—that after only three weeks of attendance, he refused to go back and is now home schooled.

“I knew in my heart that what happened to Cooper did not need to happen and felt there had to be a better approach to these types of interventions, so I recommended Ukeru to our school district,” said Guy, who founded the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR) to advocate for policies to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.

Administrators took Guy’s suggestion to heart and arranged a conference call and virtual demonstration with Ukeru to learn more.

“The data they showed us from other districts was compelling,” said Diane. “I also liked that it was hands off and focused on ways to positively redirect students.”

Calvert County decided to roll out a pilot in eight of its schools beginning in the fall of 2019. Ukeru’s team visited each school to conduct trainings and helped develop individualized plans to ensure the culture change was successful at each campus.

Unfortunately, less than six months after the pilot project launched, Calvert County was forced to shut down its schools and shift to online learning due to COVID-19.

“It’s disappointing, because we were eager to see how adopting Ukeru would affect our number of restraints, seclusions, and overall safety,” Diane explains. “Initial feedback from school staff was very favorable, but we’ll need to wait a little longer for the data to come back.”

When the district’s schools do reopen, administrators plan to refresh staff on their training, so they can restart with a trauma-informed mindset from day one. The team at Ukeru is looking forward to sharing Calvert County’s data with readers and prospective clients as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, check out our Case Studies page to see results from other clients that have adopted Ukeru!