Parents in Cheney are worried about a new school policy that allows school security officers to use batons and Tasers to control special-needs students.
The school district acknowledges the language sounds troubling, but is assuring parents such weapons are not even carried by school officers.The policy, which is based on a state law approved in 2013, is intended to make sure parents are told within 24 hours if their child is restrained or isolated because of behavior, and is being adopted by school districts across the state.
“This part of the law has created a lot of heartburn, and rightly so,” said Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), who is also a teacher. “Legally, if you use the term restraint, you have to define the devices,” which also includes handcuffs, pepper spray and ankle restraints.
Spokane Public Schools also has adopted the policy.
“Resource officers do carry batons and pepper spray, but pepper spray has never been used. Any situation that would call for a baton would also mean a 911 call,” said Kevin Morrison, the district spokesman. “In no case would a Taser be an acceptable deterrent in this district.”
Parent Alison Probert, whose autistic son attends school in Cheney School District, became alarmed when she read the new policy.
“It gives school districts powers that parents don’t have,” Probert said. “We can’t Taser our kids. The idea that this is even possible in a school is just horrifying.”
Probert thinks her son’s school district is great. “What if we have an unscrupulous person, though? You know we’ve had them.”
Stonier, who sponsored the law, said the good intentions of this are being lost on the description of the restraints. Listing the acceptable devices became necessary while crafting the bill – an unintended consequence.
Kristi Thurston, Cheney School District’s director of student support services, is planning a meeting to provide clarification with parents.
School districts are guided by state and federal laws, but they can make certain adjustments to the wording, she said. In this case, Cheney School District’s policy is more restrictive than the law.
“Only school resource officers can use any of those devices. He doesn’t carry a Taser. He doesn’t carry a baton,” Thurston said.
As a school district, the absolute last resort is isolation or restraint. Those options are only used in extreme cases when a student is potentially going to harm themselves, she said.
The lawmaker who pushed for the law is disappointed some people are overlooking the intent of the law.
“Nowhere in statute did it require that parents be notified,” Stonier said. “We wanted to change it so districts would be breaking the law if they didn’t.”
Proponents intended to broaden the law to all students, not just those with special needs or those in mainstream education. Just to get something on the books, they made some exceptions. The plan now is to adjust the current law during the next session.
“I’m the teacher in the Legislature,” Stonier said. “I want people to know I’m advocating for kids.”