STANDISH, Maine — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require schools to more accurately report instances in Maine when students are restrained or secluded.
The legislation comes in the wake of a recent report that found schools are restraining students four to 11 times more than the national average.
The report also says more than 70 percent of the cases involve students with disabilities -- even though there's a law on the books that's supposed to reduce the number of incidents.
Alex Martell was diagnosed with ADHD, mood and anxiety disorder when he started kindergarten. But his mom says his experience as a special needs student has been anything but smooth.
The 12-year-old has been physically restrained or put in seclusion -- a room by himself -- more than 75 times.
School staff is allowed to use these methods in emergency situations to keep students from hurting themselves or teachers. Because of his disability, Alex struggles with following directions, but he has never left the school without permission or been aggressive to himself or teachers.
"Maybe he is disturbing the class -- I understand if they don't want that, but that's not a reason to have five people (one on each arm, one on each leg) holding his head to the floor," said Denise Martell, Alex's mom.
Martell shows us a stack of incident reports that date back to second grade. The latest incidents of restraint and seclusion happened earlier this year at Bonny Eagle Middle School.
Under a 2013 law known as Chapter 33, school districts are required to report incidents to the state every year. Parents have to be notified within 24 hours when a restraint or a seclusion takes places.
Martell says the reports filed by the school doesn't match school security video. She says it shows Alex running down the hall and then fiddling with a doorknob -- which resulted in another five person restraint.
A report by Disability Rights Maine shows the practices increased 60 percent between 2012 and 2018. The numbers are expected to be even higher -- because two of the state's largest districts (Portland and Lewiston) did not report their numbers that year.
"We think seclusion should be banned outright -- no one says it's safe and effective in addressing the underlining behaviors, and it's happening more and more and more," said Ben Jones, an attorney with Disability Rights Maine.
An average of 900 students with disabilities are placed at special purpose, private schools each year by their districts. The data shows more than half of the incidents are happening at these schools.
Michelle Hathaway is the director of Margaret Murphy Centers for Children. The program has seven campuses with more than 200 students with developmental and intellectual disabilities, ages 2 to 20 years old, enrolled. She says a small percentage of the students are at risk for self-injury or aggressive behavior -- children who otherwise would be in a hospital program or an out-state institution.
Hathaway says all of her staff are property trained to use the methods in emergency situations. That may involve several hundred incidents a day -- including holding students to keep them from hitting themselves in the head.
"18 staff in one location needed emergency medical treatment for injuries sustained by one of these 18-year-old students," recalled Hathaway. "That included concussions, stitches and broken fingers."
An investigation by the MSAD 6 superintendent Paul Penna found that staff followed certified safety care techniques to prevent the student from disrupting learning, as well as being safe. The state also determined the incidents did not violate state law.
Martell transferred Alex from the special education classroom to the resource room in January -- there haven't been incidents since then.