BI family, schools debate treatment of some students

The family of a 9-year-old boy who was placed in a police car in February is reaching out to the public for support, saying the Bainbridge Island School District isn’t doing anything to improve such situations.

In response, superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen sent a long email explaining all the things the district is doing.

Lindsey and Tim Woolsey say in an email that they have chosen homeschooling because the district isn’t doing enough to “give the boys what they need to feel safe and calm enough to continue learning.”

But Bang-Knudsen’s email says the district has ongoing training in these areas and had two specific ones near the start of school. One was on best practices for educators to build relationships and trust with students, as well as de-escalation strategies. It was presented to special education staff and administrators about the law related to restraint and isolation. The other was presented to all certificated staff. That training focused on understanding and supporting students who are neurodiverse with an emphasis on inclusion, equity and co-regulation (understanding how the feelings and behavior of people in our proximity may impact how we feel and respond).

However, the lengthy email to the district from the Woolseys says: “We have spent hundreds of hours communicating with all of you; in fact doing your jobs for you by peeling apart the facts from fiction, directly calling out the problems, suggesting solutions and change.” It goes on to say: “The district has not provided any single bit of reassurance that your schools, programs and staff are actually making real changes to how children with special needs are treated, respected and taught…”

It says superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen’s “message in June was a convoluted, botched mess. It made his apology to our children with frosted shark cookies feel slimy.”

However, Bang-Knudsen’s email says in June he sent a letter to all BISD staff and families, and it was also posted on the BISD website. It included an apology to the family and others.

It says two BISD policies were not fully followed. It says, in part, that, “This situation brought to light the need for district-wide staff training and guidance on how to better partner with BIPD (BI police) to bring about resolutions to situations that involve student safety. I am committed to learning from this event, and I am confident it will improve BISD’s practices and ultimately provide a more welcoming and supportive environment for students, staff and families.”

The Woolseys email says the district could start this new school year off right by saying, “something happened in our community that should not have, that hurt a child and his family, and as a result we are committed to trying to make this right with training on neuro divergency, communication and stronger acknowledgment that inclusivity truly includes everybody.” The Woolseys letter emphasizes that transparency and training are needed. Training should be more than just about restraint or de-escalation. It should be about disabilities and based on science.

The letter says that BISD uses “Handle with Care” restraint training, which was dropped by major school districts in other states and has led to serious injury elsewhere. The letter also questions the validity of the district’s new Special Ed Program Council since two-thirds is made up of district employees with only one-third non-paid parents.

Bang-Knudsen’s response says the district has never used “Handle with Care,” but instead using a crisis prevention program called Safety Care, which is recommended by the state Office of Public Instruction.

The Woolseys say that for 3 1/2 years their boys were treated as if they were behavioral problems rather than autistic. They questioned how BISD employees were not able to spot that. They add due to a nine-month waiting list their children were not diagnosed until three months after one of the boys was forced into physical restraints by four adults, isolating him in a police car, thrashing and screaming — all caught on video.

Bang-Knudsen’s email says, “We continually work with our staff to fulfill our obligation to locate, identify and to evaluate any student with disabilities, including autism, who might require school-based support for those disabilities.”

Regarding next steps, his email says BISD is increasing its special education leadership capacity and hiring two student services directors; and consulted with OSPI regarding working with police when students unexpectedly leave campus.

Investigation results

A 50-page independent investigation by Seattle attorney Jeffrey M. Wells concerning the Feb. 28 incident at Ordwell Elementary School says the BISD did violate two of its own policies.

The report says:

The boy had ran off six or so times since kindergarten, including twice this year. He’s had problems previously, such as tackling a student who was taunting him. He has also injured staff and other students. Classmates were removed from the room during one outburst. Once he ran off to a church parking lot. He also climbed over a fence onto high school property one time but came back. There were other times that were not written up because he was able to calm down. It says his behavior issues increased this year after winter break. The report says on Feb. 28 the boy became frustrated with math management and ran from the classroom. He again ran over to the church. After school officials struggled to gain control for quite some time, 911 was called, and BI police responded. He was kicking, punching and pinching those trying to control him. Police thought he might be more comfortable in a police car. It was cold, wet, staff was fatigued, he could run off again, and holding him to the ground was the other alternative.

There was a Safety Plan for the boy, but some staff, and police didn’t know it.

Since it was off school property no one knew if police or the district was in charge. The boy also was not monitored the entire time he was in the police car.

A policy says if there is significant physical distress the isolation must be reduced immediately. The boy was in the police car for 10 minutes, 37 seconds, screaming part of the time. He said “no” he didn’t want to be in there from the start.

Another policy says restraint should not be used if it adds to the problem. The boy’s Safety Plan says if he lashes out, give him space, step back, get into a defensive posture and talk in a firm voice. Restraint is OK if the person is a serious harm to self, others or district property. But it’s not to be used if the person has a health or physical condition where restraint would exacerbate the problem.

Bang-Knudsen’s reply says, “As our practice always has been, key personnel are aware of student safety plans.” He adds, “We have ongoing conversations and training with our partners at the Bainbridge Island Police Department about decision-making when an incident occurs and potential crisis response.”