Stevens Elementary School parents, teachers and district board directors gathered over Zoom last week in light of an incident during the just completed school year that raised concerns about racial bias and force used to restrain students. Some school board directors are looking into policy prohibiting physical restraint methods altogether.
“Director Rankin and I are exploring, along with staff, what are the impacts and what is the possibility of an outright ban on isolation and restraints especially in our district and focusing solely on de-escalation methods,” school board member Brandon Hersey said over Zoom. “That way we remove the ability for harm to be done to our students physically yet we still have an opportunity to reevaluate and recenter ourselves in de-escalation.”
The district’s physical intervention policy allows restraint and isolation methods to be used on students “when reasonably necessary to control spontaneous behavior that poses an ‘imminent likelihood of serious harm,’ as defined by WAC 392-172A- 01092 and WAC 392-172A-01109,” to oneself, peers or property.
Concerns about this policy heightened following a March incident in which district security guard David Raybern allegedly held down a seven-year-old Black student to the point of restricting her breathing, according to a report by KUOW. Raybern has since been terminated from his position, according to Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson.
Director Zachary DeWolf, who represents Stevens as part of District 5, said the board is working to unveil a series of a dozen or so safety and security policy changes for the fall that are in line with the board’s recent “Commitment to Black students” resolution.
“One thing I’m concerned about is the place where people can use their own personal biases to gage somebody’s imminent risk to themselves and then make a decision based on that,” DeWolf said.
Meeting attendees expressed confusion and frustration over the March incident not being publicly acknowledged until three months after-the-fact, when Superintendent Denise Juneau sent out an email to the Stevens community. Juneau refers to multiple alleged “inappropriate” incidents at Stevens, including Raybern using “excessive force” on the seven-year-old student.
“That’s where we really fall down as a district, is we skip over that acknowledgement piece entirely and it really leaves anyone and everyone involved feeling pretty, pretty awful so that’s something that we would like to see codified,” director Chandra Hampson said.
The discussions come on the heels of school districts across the country cutting ties with police after widespread protesting against racism and police brutality. Seattle Public Schools has followed suit, suspending police presence in school buildings as of June. Security guards, on the other hand, remain the center of debate.“This is insane that we are having conversations about a security guard that threw a seven year old against a wall,” Hersey said. “This should be a no-brainer for our system to show that we need to take action and it’s far too late.”
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