Dayton schools issued corrective measures after improperly restraining autistic boy

Dayton Public Schools officials improperly restrained a third grade student with autism, then failed to notify the boy’s mother of the incident or how she could file a complaint, according to the findings of an Ohio Department of Education investigation released this week.

To address this, the district had to provide training to staff — the school resource officer involved had a certification in crisis management and de-escalation that expired in 2019 — update its policy on behavioral interventions, and provide a letter to all parents about how they can file a complaint regarding restraint or seclusion.

DPS officials say all these corrective actions will be made by ODE’s deadlines, and that the safety of students and staff is the district’s utmost priority.

Dayton is the third district in the state of Ohio to be investigated by the state department since new rules went into effect in June giving ODE the authority to look into schools’ use of restraint and seclusion.

The new rule requires every district in the state, starting this school year, to notify parents annually of their policy and procedures related to behavior intervention and emergency use of physical restraint and seclusion, including the complaint process.

The Dayton schools incident investigated by ODE happened in August and involved a third grade student with autism at Eastmont Elementary School.

The boy’s mother also reported the incident to the Riverside Police Department, where Eastmont is located. The city prosecutor declined in October to press charges, according to police records.

ODE’s findings and school officials’ statements to police say the third grade boy became combative and shoved furniture, causing the teachers to take other kids out of the room and call the principal and school resource officer. They tried to calm him down, but he started to punch and kick them and hit himself. The SRO and school staff responded by repeatedly holding him down.

The Ohio Department of Education found the school resource officer “restrained (the student) while on the ground laying on his stomach, hands behind his back and feet crossed.” Physically restraining a student while in a face-down position is called “prone restraint,” and is prohibited by state rules, the ODE report says.

The child’s mother, Jessica Foley, said she learned of the incident from her son after picking him up from school.

“They’re supposed to call me,” she told the Dayton Daily News. “That never happened.”

Foley said the district wasn’t honest with her about what happened, prompting her to file complaints with the state, police and children services. She said her son was traumatized by the incident.

“It hurts. It hurts because I trusted his teacher. I felt like she cared about my son and his wellbeing,” Foley said.

“My son is scared to go to school and that’s not fair to him,” she said. “People need to be aware of what’s going on in the school and they have rights.”

A separate ODE investigation that concluded in November found Dayton schools officials also didn’t follow the child’s individualized education plan during the incident. There were no corrective actions listed for this because the mother moved the child to another district.

Dayton Public Schools officials say their staff first tried to deescalate the situation, but the child’s behavior escalated to throwing objects, head butting staff, kicking tables and staff, throwing chairs and hitting himself.

“We’ve always made it our effort to make sure that staff are trained in how to restrain students, and how to deescalate,” said Dayton Public Schools Associate Superintendent Sheila Burton in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. “(They are trained) to deescalate first, and then to use restraint or seclusion as a last resort.”

DPS also said in a statement that the DPS employees involved in the incident who didn’t have current crisis management and deescalation training documentation were previously trained, but their certifications expired because training was limited last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have since had the required training, school officials said, noting more than 280 DPS staff members were trained on these issues between August and October, including staff in every building.

The DPS school board members are scheduled to vote on an updated restraint and seclusion policy at their next meeting on Dec. 21, school officials say.

“This board policy addresses incidents in which restraint is appropriate; establishes that a written report documenting the incident must be made available to parents within 24 hours of an incident; establishes that within 10 days of a student’s third incident of physical restraint or seclusion, the district will hold a meeting to address the situation; and establishes that a written reporting and complaint procedure for parents must be in place, among other things,” the statement from DPS says.

Prone restraints have been prohibited in schools since 2009 because being held in that position can make it harder for someone to breathe.

Rules restricting restraint and seclusion were created in response to the deaths of children with disabilities in Ohio and other states, according to Kristin Hildebrant, senior attorney at Disability Rights Ohio.

She said schools should be using positive behavior interventions, which are proven to be more effective than restraint.

“No child ever responds to a restraint by stopping the behavior. Typically what happens is it escalates and it continues after the child is released from the restraints,” she said.

The new rules giving ODE investigative authority and making sure parents are empowered with a complaint process provides oversight of districts, some of which still too often rely on restraints, Hildebrant said, particularly with students with disabilities.

“It brings scrutiny to school districts around these practices,” she said.

About the Author