The Hell Rooms of Calvert County Public Schools: Part II

March 28, 2019

UPDATE 4/3/2019: There was an error in the spreadsheet data that was utilized to create the seclusion graphs in the article below.

The article indicated that Talbot County was #1 in seclusions. There was a data entry error that lead to that finding. Talbot actually had zero reported seclusions (lowering them on the graph and moving Calvert to the #1 position).

3/28/2019: The following article was submitted to SMNEWSNET by Waller Squared Media Productions.

Read part one of the series HERE.

“I did not know that we had a problem and now I do”, wrote Ms. Dawn Balinski, President of the Calvert County Board of Education.  “If it is confirmed that we over-restrain/over-use seclusion in CCPS, then we will fix it.”

Ms. Balinski offered these words in a March 14, 2019 email to Guy Stephens, the father of a Calvert County Middle School student who is presently receiving “home & hospital instruction.” The Stephens story was first featured in Waller Squared Media Productions initial reporting on the issue of seclusion and restraint in Calvert County Public Schools.  Mr. Stephens son, Cooper, has been unable to return to school due to trauma he experienced from incidents of seclusion and restraint, which allegedly occurred during his first fourteen days at Calvert Middle School.

Waller Squared Media Productions investigation into this matter has revealed that the Stephens experience is not a unique or isolated experience in Calvert County, or other Maryland counties for that matter.  The publication of our first article has resulted in a number of families from Southern Maryland (and beyond) contacting us and providing similar accounts.

Waller Squared has asked parents to provide documents or other evidence to support their allegations before we will report on their stories. We are presently reviewing hundreds of documents to further our investigative reporting on the practice of seclusion and restraint in Calvert County Public Schools.

One parent of a former Calvert Country School student contacted Waller Squared and has already provided documentation of two restraint and seclusion reports school staff completed on her son, a special education student with disabilities.  She has identified herself to Waller Squared, but has asked to not be publicly identified in this story. She alleges that the documents she has provided are only a couple examples of the frequent incidents of seclusion and restraint that she can prove her son experienced. Our investigation into her allegations is ongoing.

The documents already in our possession indicate that on one day, from 8:45 AM until 9:48 AM, the child who was 6-years-old at the time, was physically restrained and transported to the seclusion room for “playing with light switches” in a hallway and because he “began to knock over chairs.”  Later that very same day, from 12:05 PM until 1:20 PM, this child was again physically restrained and transported to the seclusion room for not cleaning up after himself when break time ended.

The teacher’s report indicates that a one minute timer was set when the child was told to clean up the toys.  After one minute, when the child continued to throw toy blocks around the classroom, he was restrained and then secluded, for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Like other families reporting to us, this parent removed her child from Calvert County Public Schools and began homeschooling.

A March 13th report by WAMU on the practice of seclusion and restraint in Fairfax County, VA schools offered a description of seclusion rooms “that are built like Russian nesting dolls, rooms within a room.”  In many ways, this same description describes the oversight and management structure of the American education system.  The U.S. Department of Education establishes standards and provides guidance, which flows down to the State Departments of Education.  From the State level, guidance and direction is given to the various County Boards of Education, who in turn provide direction to their respective schools.  

On one hand, such a system can maximize resources and affords layers of oversight to assure that only the best practices are followed in our schools.  On the other hand, Waller Squared’s investigation into this matter has identified that the message passed from one layer to the next isn’t always clear or accurate.

It is much like the grammar school exercise, where each child is instructed to repeat a message whispered in his ear.  The lesson learned is that sometimes things get lost in translation.  When the message is passed from one child to the next, it often arrives in the ear of the last child as a totally different message than that which was whispered by the first.  This lesson, intended for school children, may have subsequently become lost on our school educators.

Our March 22ndreport on the practice of seclusion and restraint in Calvert County Public Schools brought to light a school system policy and practice that is not in line with Maryland law. Maryland law prohibits the restraint and forced seclusion of a student, unless the student’s actions pose a risk to life and limb.  Maryland law calls such a risk  “imminent, serious, physical harm.”  Calvert County’s policy allows staff to physically restrain students and force them into seclusion rooms for much lesser behaviors.

Waller Squared Media Productions has obtained copies of several reports completed by staff at Calvert Middle School, revealing the practice of seclusion and restraint upon a special education student for “splashing water” and other similar behaviors, – behaviors that do not appear to place anyone at risk of “imminent, serious, physical harm.”

Parents with whom we have communicated believe that Calvert County’s policy on seclusion and restraint is the cause for such high reported numbers of the practice in the county, as compared to the rest of Maryland. A December 2018 report by the Maryland State Department of Education may support the parents’ position.

A graph created from the Maryland State Department of Education reported data showing the number of physical restraint incidents in the county as compared to total enrollment.
A graph created from the Maryland State Department of Education reported data showing the number of physical seclusion incidents in the county as compared to total enrollment.

Statistics from nationwide data indicate that children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the practices of restraint and seclusion. According to an article on Disability Scoop, “the vast majority of the estimated 122,000 students restrained or secluded at school had disabilities, the Education Department said. Children served under IDEA represented 71 percent of those restrained and 66 percent of kids subject to seclusion.”

We have submitted three separate requests to the Calvert County Public Schools, pursuant to the provisions of the Maryland Public Information Act.  We have requested to inspect, among other documents, the school system’s records related to the adoption of a policy that does not comply with the restrictions established under State law, adhering to an “imminent, serious, physical harm” standard.  We also have an interview scheduled with Superintendent Dr. Daniel Curry.

While we await the school systems response to our requests, our investigation continues.  Through this continued investigation, Waller Squared has uncovered a document, published by the Maryland State Department of Education, that may very well explain how Calvert County came to adopt a policy that violates State law.  And our discovery could have statewide ramifications.

In September of 2012, the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services, published “Technical Assistance Bulletin 18” on the use of exclusion, restraint and seclusion.  This document, intended to provide guidance to Maryland schools on the practice of seclusion and restraint, appears to have misquoted the Code of Maryland Administrative Regulations (COMAR).  In this technical assistance bulletin, the Maryland State Department of Education instructs that seclusion may be practiced “In an emergency situation in order to protect the student or another person after other less intrusive interventions have failed or been determined to be inappropriate.”

This is the same exact language as is found in Calvert County Public School’s policy.  It too is missing the “imminent, serious, physical harm” standard that is included in and mandated by State regulations.  Could it be that Calvert County has unlawfully physically restrained and forcefully secluded special education children because that is exactly what the Maryland State Department of Education had guided them to do in 2012?  We hope to be able to answer that question when we receive the records we have requested from the Calvert County Public School system.

Even if it is the case that Calvert County was acting on the 2012 guidance from the State, both the U.S. Department of Education and the Maryland State Department of Education have published numerous guidance documents on the issue since “Technical Assistance Bulletin 18” was published in 2012.

In fact, in January of this year U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education will launch an initiative to address the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in our nation’s schools.

Calvert County updated its policy on seclusion and restraint in 2013 and again in 2017.  The schools system missed those opportunities to recognize and remedy this error in the policy, an error that may account for the fact that Calvert County is second in the State (by percentage) for practicing seclusion and restraint on its students.

Just as the U.S. Department of Education has done, the State of Maryland has worked to ensure that students are not subjected to acts of restraint and seclusion unless appropriate and necessary. In September of 2017, the States Task Force on Restraint and Seclusion issued a report of recommendations.

The report reads: “The most significant recommendation of the Task Force involves the circumstances in which restraint and seclusion shall be prohibited. There was agreement that restraint and seclusion are crisis-oriented responses, but also concern that such responses may be used in lieu of less intrusive interventions once added to a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or individualized education program (IEP). To avoid that result in the BIP or IEP, the Task Force recommends revising the regulation so that physical restraint and seclusion are prohibited in public agencies and nonpublic schools unless there is an emergency situation and such responses are necessary to protect a student or other person from imminent, serious, physical harm [emphasis added] after less intrusive interventions have failed or been determined inappropriate.”

According to the Task Force report, “The Restraint and Seclusion Task Force was comprised of 29 members from Maryland public schools, nonpublic schools, and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). The Task Force was co-chaired by Mary Gable, Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Student, Family, and School Support and Academic Policy and Deborah Nelson, Section Chief for School Safety and Climate and Specialist for School Psychological Services.”

Calvert County had a representative serve on the Task Force. He was one of just 29 experts who provided recommendations to the State on when seclusion and restraint should NOT be practiced. Waller Squared has obtained and reviewed the minutes of the multiple meetings of this Maryland State Taskforce. The requirement of imminent, serious, physical harm was addressed multiple times in the minutes, and in the final report.

Waller Squared Media Productions has obtained copies of a written report involving the very same Calvert County educator who served on this State Task Force, practicing seclusion and restraint upon a special education student at Calvert Middle School for behaviors that do not appear to rise to the level of “imminent, serious, physical harm.”

Our investigation and reporting will continue. In future articles, we will expand on other aspects of Calvert County Public Schools policies and procedures that are not aligned with Maryland regulations.

———————————————————-
Mr. Guy Stephens and Cooper have consented to being identified in this report.

Brian Waller
Waller Squared Media Productions

About the author: Brian Waller is a retired police administrator, crisis intervention & mental health first aid instructor, and criminal investigator, – now turned public interest journalist. He manages Waller Squared Media Productions, LLC and may be reached at Brian@WallerSquaredMedia.com

Waller Squared Media Productions, find important stories and make sure those stories are properly investigated and adequately explained. Many of today’s local news outlets barely scratch the surface to get to the bottom of important regional issues. They will tunnel to the center of the earth if that is what it takes to expose the truth on matters of public interest to the citizens of Delmarva and beyond.

They are not a personal opinion driven blog. They do not publish unsubstantiated claims. Investigations conducted with integrity and high ethical standards is all that we do.

They believe that our local and state public institutions must be transparent and that the public should be well informed in order to make informed decisions about matters of significance to our community.

33 Responses to The Hell Rooms of Calvert County Public Schools: Part II

  1. ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz on March 28, 2019 at 7:47 am

    Nothing Burgers for sale.

  2. research on March 28, 2019 at 8:49 am

    Their website has been set up to address this ONE AND ONLY issue. They are NOT veteran news reporters nor do they have ANY qualifications or credentials that would lead anyone to believe they are a member of a local or national press corps. SMNEWSNET should be ashamed to publish this.

    • Brian Waller on March 28, 2019 at 1:06 pm

      I am retired police criminal investigator, and to the person who uses the handle “research on”, I am prepared to present all of my qualifications and credentials. The website was not setup to address this “ONE AND ONLY” issue. This just happens to be the first set of articles I have authored. I have 24 years of experience conducting investigations and authoring reports that are forensically sound, satisfying the “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden of proof to reach convictions in a criminal court of law. Do you believe that the standard one must meet to be qualified to conduct investigations and author works of journalism for public consumption is greater than the standards for criminal investigations and reports? I welcome constructive criticism on the points presented in the article. I encourage everyone to follow the website links embedded in the article. Read the Maryland law for yourself. Read Calvert’s school policy. Read the documents issued by the U.S. and Maryland Department of Education. Challenge what I have presented as facts with your own thoughtfully constructed counter arguments, supported by facts you can cite. Or, call names and deflect. Ours is a wonderful nation where we are free to be informed or ignorant. Balls in your court. – Brian R. Waller

      • Fred G. Sanford on March 29, 2019 at 9:59 pm

        It’s just “research” you big dummy, “on” follows every handle.
        – Fred G. Sanford (the G stands for Grammar).

      • LOL on March 30, 2019 at 8:51 am

        Well present them, wtf are you waiting for?

    • I'm still laughing on March 28, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      I’m sure this involves a future lawsuit, no doubt its about $$. This guy claims stories are properly investigated. That is NOT TRUE, especially when he didnt even speak to any of the teachers involved, or acquaintances of the family or anyone else that knows the boy, and parents. Of course everything they say will be biased. What a joke

    • truthteller on March 28, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      EXACTLY.

    • Celeste on March 29, 2019 at 12:40 pm

      The series of articles definitely seem biased against the Calvert County Schools. The parents of the child are probably just upset at how their child was treated, and got together with this ‘investigative reporter’ or whatever, and created a website to air their views – disguised as ‘reporting’.

  3. ProtectOurStudentsAndStaff on March 28, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Stop allowing our kids classrooms to be disrupted! Enough is enough! It’s supposed to be a safe learning environment, not a dangerous and stressful social experiment, where all the students suffer. Disruptive children do not belong in our classrooms. Stop this madness!

    • anon on March 28, 2019 at 1:32 pm

      Agree

    • The Media on March 29, 2019 at 12:50 pm

      You are correct! Don’t give a damn what disability anyone’s child has that does not give it the right to disrupt classroom for others. Sorry about your luck, you should home school your child! Bye!

  4. Anonymous on March 28, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Real discipline is unheard of these days. Parents that coddle and baby their kids set them up for failure. The liberals even teach boys its okay to be a girl and vice versa along with it being okay for bob to marry bill. You cant even spank your kids without worrying about social services showing up. This generation is screwed.

    • Anonymous on March 28, 2019 at 2:54 pm

      This generation can’t wait for dense tools like you to move on from this lifetime. Just because you hate yourself, doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s fault.

      • Walt Kawolski on March 31, 2019 at 7:14 am

        But then who will take care of you little sissies? You’ll starve to death.

        • Anonymous on April 1, 2019 at 10:13 am

          Indeed!

  5. Anonymous on March 28, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    These practices are for everyone’s safety including the teachers. To just let a child throw things , bite, kick and totally uncontrollable is not the answer. Support the teachers , THEY ARE TRAINED to help YOUR child , are you?

  6. SonjaD on March 28, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Glad to see some people on here with common sense. If your kid doesn’t know how to behave, it’s your fault. Forcing well behaved kids to deal with this is selfish. No child left behind bull crap.

  7. Anonymous on March 28, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    My child was not a threat to anyone, or a danger to anyone. She never provoked, threw tantrums, talked back, or was disruptive. She has an IEP and this still happened to her in Charles County. Even after her Drs talked to the school about the damage they were doing to her, they still subjected her. Not for 10 minutes or 30 minutes, but ALL day. For NO other reason than she was falling behind in her classes. Something needs to be done about this issue.

  8. Michael Whalen on March 28, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    Where is the love and empathy? Why are your posted responses so mean? This is an issue that needs a solution. Just be nice. Cost nothing to care. Focus on the issue and solution toward a productive positive outcome.

  9. Anonymous on March 28, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Thank you for supporting us teachers!

  10. Forrest on March 28, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    You choose to live in southern Maryland *and* send your kids to public school?!?

    Haha! Stupid is as stupid does.

    • Anonymous on March 29, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      I love Southern Maryland. It’s beautiful here.

      • MdSchoolsRaJoke on April 1, 2019 at 7:41 pm

        I bet you have a great view, from your “dorm” room at Crownsville!

        • Fred G. Sanford on April 2, 2019 at 5:13 pm

          Crownsville ain’t in Southern Maryland dummy.

  11. G. Mamma on March 29, 2019 at 12:13 am

    Who can say that the other counties in Maryland are writing a report each time they place a child in a seclusion Rooom! I am sure some of theses students are nonverbal. The teachers and other students should not have to worrry about another child in the classroom being a ticking time bomb, not knowing when that child will have a melt down. Teacher’s should have the right to grab these kids and force them to the ground so, them and other students are not harmed and the child that is having a meltdown is not harming his or her self. Our kids are not scared of anything these days. Bring back the respect (Yes Sir, Yes Mamme, please and Thank You) and discipline (Good ole fashion A$$ Whooping). It all starts at home! Another thing! Americans should have free Behavioral Health Care and Medication. The End!

  12. Wiggey on March 29, 2019 at 5:15 am

    Please keep part 3 “squared” away on his website. People can read it there if they want.

  13. Rufus on March 29, 2019 at 6:23 am

    Hey Waller what’s the Solution know it all?

  14. SofaKingWeTarDid on March 29, 2019 at 7:48 am

    There is a school in our county that handles children with special behavior and physical needs it is called the Calvert Country School. It’s right across the street from the BOE. So next time your “little darling” acts like a complete a$$ you can just run across the street so we don’t have to hear about it. I said Good Day Sir.

  15. john on March 29, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Just finished both articles, I found them to be well informing and quite interesting to read. It’s nice to know the SMNEWSNET can post something else rather then the same everyday thing about adults shooting up in parking lots and DUI arrests. This is more of a real issue that should be looked in to.

  16. Father Angus Murphy on March 29, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    Stats can be misleadin’. More restraint/seclusion incidents may indicate more uncontrollable students or just more cautious teachers, the stats are not descriptive of the incident.
    If we go ’bout a field trip and Father O’Conner gets all the angels and ‘Ol Father Murphy gets all the hellions, (which usually happens), and I have to stop every time we have an outburst, what do you think those stats would look like? I don’t know the particulars of these incidents, my heart goes out to children with special needs, their lives are hard enough, and sure, special needs children can do fine in a public school setting, but the ones that are prone to violent outbursts or continually disruptive really need to be in a special school better equipped to handle their needs. It’s not fair to the child or the average teacher not properly trained to do otherwise. Children of this nature can wear out the average bloke mentally and physically in no time, and this should be taken into consideration along with further scrutiny of the stats before we villainize a school. I’ve even known of some
    cases where the child couldn’t even function in a special school and had to be tutored on a 1 on 1 basis. Another thing that would
    be interesting alongside the stat charts would be the grades, learning and progress level of each county. Hopefully, Lord willin’ the best outcome will be obtained. God bless.

  17. SBD on March 30, 2019 at 9:35 am

    They need restraint/seclusion in the House and Senate for the Democrats.

  18. Anonymous on March 31, 2019 at 5:54 am

    OMG People! These kids are entitled to an education just like your so called “normal” children.
    There are laws in place mandating that education! Look up the No Child Left Behind Act.

    I said in my post on the first article of this series, that I have 10 years experience working in schools
    with Children with Special Needs in upstate New York. I moved down here, and worked 2 years in a Special Education
    classroom. The differences in the training I received in NY and what was received down here was shocking.

    The staff didn’t have half of the training we had in NY. The teacher in the classroom, had no patience or compassion for
    the children. And the principle was a joke. He had no idea what to do with a student having a meltdown or another similar problem.

    I have seen the so called “normal” children act out more and in worse ways than the children with special needs.
    A little compassion and empathy goes a long way. Parents of the Special Needs Child need your support, not the bullying and criticism they get from a lot of people. They sure as hell did not ask for this life.

  19. Walt Kawolski on April 1, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Principals and teachers shouldn’t have to worry about how to deal with a meltdown. If your kid has meltdowns they need to be in a special school, and since you’re so much damn smarter than everybody else, why don’t you open a school and take in all the meltdowns?