Disability in kids: Private special education school without restraint

Jul 27, 2020 by

Centennial, a private special education school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, went from more than 1,000 restraints in a year to zero.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Twenty years ago, a visitor to Centennial School would have heard a cacophony.

“Banging on doors, yelling, wailing,” said Julie Fogt, the current director of the school. “Adults were loud: ‘Stop that, stop that! Crisis! I need help!’”

It was a private school, but public schools paid to send their most troubled kids there. The school took only children who had both a diagnosis of autism or emotional disturbance and a history of severe behavior issues.

“It was the most violent school I’d ever been in,” said Michael George, the former director.

A man with blue eyes and a bushy white mustache, George stepped into the role of director in 1999. The year before, a population of only around 80 kids were physically restrained over 1,000 times. Students were dragged, kicking and screaming, to locked seclusion rooms. Most of the school’s furniture was old and dilapidated. As one administrator told George, why bother purchasing something new when an angry kid would probably break it the next day?

George and the school’s teachers realized the physical restraints were making student behavior worse. So they made it their mission to change the school’s culture. In 1999, Centennial went from 233 restraints in the first 40 days of school to just one restraint in the last 40 days of school. Within four years, restraints were down to zero. The school also saved money, according to a 2005 study, because it didn’t have to hire a huge crisis staff anymore.

Students study at Centennial School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in April 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools. The light are colored blue for the comfort of children with sensory disorders.

During a visit to the school last year, the only noise was the murmur of kids chatting and teachers praising their work. The school is clean, with halls that smell like peppermint. Some classrooms have gentle blue overhead lights, for kids with light sensitivity. It feels like a zen spa for kindergarteners.

Centennial’s success, teachers believe, proves that restraint and seclusion is almost never necessary, even for kids struggling with the most serious behavior issues.

continue: Disability in kids: Private special education school without restraint

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.