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Loudoun County Public Schools opens dialogue on restraint, seclusion; parents remain concerned

Suzanne Jimenez, Loudoun County Public Schools’ director of special education, addresses parents at a forum on the school system’s policy for restraining and secluding students Feb. 22. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
Loudoun County Public Schools on Thursday hosted a forum on its restraint and seclusion tactics for students with special needs in an attempt to educate parents and assuage concerns. Despite the two informational sessions, parents still expressed anger, confusion and concern.

Director of Special Education Suzanne Jimenez gave an hour-long presentation on guidelines for restraint and seclusion set by the Virginia Department of Education and informed parents on how to get involved with the school system.

“This is an opportunity for us to have a larger conversation about how schools are carrying out the guidelines,” Jimenez said. “We want to be a support and a service for all of our students.”

Jimenez said LCPS follows all VDOE guidelines on restraint and seclusion. Before implementing those practices, however, LCPS advocates using Positive Behavior Interventions.

Schools have access to Behavior Intervention Teams, which are made up of administrative and instructional personnel trained in relational and technical levels of the Mandt System. The team primarily responds to a behavioral crisis that could potentially involve restraint or seclusion, Jimenez said.

LCPS defines restraint as any method or device restricting another person’s freedom of movement, physical activity or normal access to their body. The school system defines seclusion as an involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving until they no longer pose an immediate danger to themselves, others or school property.

Per the guidelines, either practice should only be used in emergencies, such as to avoid harm, injury or death to a student or others. These tactics are only to be employed by a team of trained school-based personnel with at least one additional staff member present and observing, Jimenez said.

When seclusion is used, the seclusion area must be of a size where students can sit or lie down, have adequate ventilation including heat and air conditioning, have adequate lighting, allow staff to continuously see or hear the student, permit automatic release of any locks if a fire or other emergency in the school exists. Click here for more on the school system's policy on seclusion and restraint.

Several parents accused Jimenez of not answering questions and said their experience did not mirror the advertised guidelines.

Alexa Zagorites, the mother of the girl with special needs who was photographed while in seclusion, attended the morning informational session and spoke on her experience.

“I was never contacted. Everything that the system did concerning my child followed nothing that you proposed today,” Zagorites said. “There’s so much, I think, to say, and I just would have loved a private meeting a year ago. Three times I begged, begged, to meet you, so I think at this point for everybody, this is more of a community. I was so scared to talk. The fact that all these parents are here, they have just as much of a right to know, because it could be their child.”

Parents also asked for more communication from teachers, therapists and administrators. Sanda Backus said she would like to see a uniform daily communication sheet instituted across the county for all students with special needs. The sheet would include what teachers and therapists worked on the student with and include therapists’ notes.

“We have no idea what’s going on with our children that are nonverbal,” Backus said. “These are not verbal children and some that are verbal are not necessarily developmentally able to come home and communicate to us about their day.”

Backus says her child's school uses a daily sheet, but she feels it should be implemented across the board in Loudoun schools.

Backus is also an advocate for more adaptive guidance for students with special needs when it comes to instruction students receive on social thinking and mental health. She developed the idea with the Special Education Advisory Committee Vice President of Planning Shehnaz Khan.

Backus said the general education classes receive weekly guidance and special education classes need that guidance adapted to student’s ability so that they can understand.

“The reason for this is the whole mental health issue. They need to be able to know how to express their emotions, what emotions are, all those things,” Backus said. “Our special ed children are included in the guidance in the gen ed class but it goes over their head. So it is accessible to them to but it is not adapted to them.”

Backus and Khan’s school has implemented this adaptive guidance with qualified personnel who know how to teach special needs populations. But just as with the daily communication sheets, this is something they’d like to see used systematically at all schools so no parent has to worry about what happens when their child goes to another school.

Inconsistency in the level of service is a central concern for parents. Some cited wonderful experiences with certain teachers or certain schools and a deterioration of services at others.

Jennifer Read spoke on the experience of her grandchildren. Her 18-year-old grandson with Aspergers Syndrome received great services and has had a positive experience within LCPS, but her five-year-old nonverbal granddaughter continuously has services cut.

“If you give those children services they need now instead of taking them away, they will cost you a lot less money in the future because they can be sort of independent. But from what I’m seeing, rather than these children being given more opportunities, which they should be because they’re at a disadvantage, they’re being given less,” Read said.

Read said she is afraid that as her granddaughter continues through LCPS, she will end up disproportionately secluded. She also called for more transparency from the school system.

“My grandson, as I said, who went through the same system, he’s a straight A student. He was given what he needed,” Read said. “He was nurtured, he was taught, he was educated by the people who knew what they were doing, had the time and were willing to spend the time with him and that’s what the school system should be doing now for these children with special needs, especially the nonverbal ones. Who’s going to speak for them?”

Jimenez invited parents to become involved with SEAC and attend the monthly meetings. She also shared LCPS will host two informational sessions on the training the Behavioral Intervention Team receives. The tentative dates are March 12 at 6 p.m. for elementary parents and March 22 at 6 p.m. for secondary school parents at the LCPS administration building.

Should the date or time change, the new details will be advertised on the LCPS website, Jimenez said.

“I can’t fix all of this today, but I invited you because we want to have a conversation and we want to continue,” Jimenez said in response to a parent. “We are not in any way discounting what parents have to say, and we are inviting that dialogue, but in a manner where people can be heard, where it is productive and where you have an opportunity to hear each other.”

Related coverage:

-"The Isolation Room: Loudoun County parents alarmed at treatment of students with special needs"


A special needs kid was injured while under the care (or lack)of Loudoun Schools and taken to the emergency room.  Jimenez was called and she did not even return the call.  She is fairly new in this job but she should be former director!

Half of the attendees at this meeting were LCPS personnel who appeared to be seeing the guidelines for the first time. Just claiming that the guidelines are “up on the website” is not sufficient, people actually have to be trained. This is bad for LCPS and is only going to get worse with upcoming lawsuits and OCR complaints, unless they make a meaningful change.

I’m shocked by how all of LCPS handle or don’t handle these situations the same. You would think there is a process of which educators/principals follow, with at least 1 being a phone call to parents at some point. So does every LCPS have one of these rooms? How many years has this been going on? Does the director ever show up at these schools unannounced to check on them? seems like the director doesn’t have a clue. How long has she been on the job? if more than a year, she should be terminated. This is a disgrace.

nrcbtm1,  After 8 years on the school board below is the law and my opinion to try to answer your question. I wish voters would spend more time evaluating the ability of their representatives to actually function under the law rather than try to impose their parties belief system on LCPS or ride the agenda like a surfer offering no added check and balance value.

  § 22.1-79. Powers and duties.
A school board shall:

1. See that the school laws are properly explained, enforced and observed;

2. Secure, by visitation or otherwise, as full information as possible about the conduct of the public schools in the school division and take care that they are conducted according to law and with the utmost efficiency;

3. Care for, manage and control the property of the school division and provide for the erecting, furnishing, equipping, and noninstructional operating of necessary school buildings and appurtenances and the maintenance thereof by purchase, lease, or other contracts;

4. Provide for the consolidation of schools or redistricting of school boundaries or adopt pupil assignment plans whenever such procedure will contribute to the efficiency of the school division;

5. Insofar as not inconsistent with state statutes and regulations of the Board of Education, operate and maintain the public schools in the school division and determine the length of the school term, the studies to be pursued, the methods of teaching and the government to be employed in the schools;

School board members are not substitutes for the background/knowledge of the Superintendent nor should they be unwitting cheerleaders of LCPS.
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

nrcbtm1, I think your question is a good one. What is the role of the superintendent in ensuring the law is followed within the school district? I notice LCPS is being investigated by dept of education office of civil rights for six disability retaliations alone, not to mention the other disability-related investigations currently underway. The full time employees devoted to ensuring federal funds are spent lawfully should have leading role in this, with input from school board. What do others think?

Alternative Location?  Sounds like someone just doesn’t want to bother with special needs children.  What’s needed are personnel that are certified with the requisite experience to help these children.  Only in very rare/extreme cases should a special needs child be enrolled in an alternative location.  And, by the way, the guidelines are just that, “minimum” guidelines.  Maybe the guidelines need to be changed.  However, what everyone fails to address is the medieval treatment of these children, such as the one that is the topic, in most school environments.

Two quick observations:  I would hope that each parent of a special needs child read the these guidelines prior to send you kind to school or at a minimum had a discussion with the administrator prior too. Second, in some case I don’t think the schools are remotely equipped to address some of the needs of these children and alternative location for those children may be a better choice.

Should the elected Loudoun County School Board be involved in policy decisions such as this one or are those policy decisions solely up to the appointed LCPS Superintendent, Dr. Williams? What is your opinion? Note that under current law the Superintendent and most LCPS staff are full-time jobs, but not Board members.

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