This post was written by our summer intern Teresa Kroeger. She is a senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Last Thursday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing titled “Beyond Seclusion and Restraint: Creating Positive Learning Environments for All Students.” The hearing discussed the harmful practices of seclusion and restraint used in schools. The panel consisted of the director of the Center for Leadership in Disability, representatives from public and private schools, and a parent who witnessed first-hand the damaging effects of seclusion and restraint on her son.
Seclusion and restraint in schools have had harmful effects on countless children. These tactics are disproportionately used on racial minorities and students with disabilities. In all cases of seclusion, the children are removed from an educational environment and lose the opportunity to learn. They are separated from their peers, who are valuable tools in teaching proper communication and behavior. From 2010 to 2011 alone, there were around 39,000 issues of chemical or physical restraint in United States’ schools. Restraint and seclusion have emotionally damaging effects that ultimately perpetuate the issue of emotional outbursts. Sadly, uses of these methods have even lead to the unnecessary deaths of several children involved.
The panel echoed a resounding agreement on the solution: to teach communication to students and preventative tactics to teachers. Seclusion and restraint should only be used in classrooms in emergency situations. Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland and the Centennial School in Pennsylvania have followed this model for years. Their positive results are undeniably significant. The schools’ quantitative and qualitative data reveal the powerful impact of positive learning environments for all students.
Positive learning environments are the hallmark of afterschool programs, which are an important tool in positive youth development. Afterschool programs are instrumental in improving the behavior and communication of all children. Expanded learning time engages children in their education, creating a positive learning environment as opposed to one consumed by the fear of punishment. Students can learn how to better express themselves through student-centered learning. They can develop skills and nurture talents that will resonate through all aspects of their lives. Afterschool programs also provide equal opportunities for education to students that need it the most. Minority and special needs children are secluded and retained most in schools, and they are the most in need of additional educational and developmental opportunities outside of school.
Students benefit tremendously from an encouraging and communicative environment both inside the classroom and after school. Children learn appropriate behavior and conflict resolution from their peers and instructors. With our support of positive learning environments, every student can succeed.