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Faison Plans Changes Following VPM Investigation Into Staff Concerns About Student Seclusion Use, Reporting

The Faison Center doors
The Faison Center plans training changes following VPM investigation into student seclusion at the Richmond private day school. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

Following the broadcast and publication of a series about the use of seclusion and restraint in private day schools serving students with disabilities, VPM News has learned some changes are being made at a Richmond-based private school to address staff concerns.

The Faison Center reported 5,617 total seclusions for the combined 2016 and 2017 school years, according to state data. That’s more than half the total number reported by about 80 schools combined.

VPM News interviewed more than a dozen people with experience working in Faison classrooms during this investigation, the majority of whom told VPM News that they’re sometimes instructed not to report a seclusion if the door to the seclusion room isn’t completely closed but is just cracked slightly, or if a foot or a desk is wedged in the door. They requested anonymity because they said they feared retaliation.

Several former and current staff told VPM News that lack of training and clear policy about the use of seclusion rooms has led to underreporting and overuse of the practice. After publication of this story Tuesday, multiple Faison staff members told VPM News that members of Faison leadership and other staff briefly discussed changes that the Faison Center plans to put in place following the VPM News investigation.

These details were confirmed through a recording obtained by VPM News. Changes to staff training are mentioned, although specific details of what those changes will entail are not discussed, nor the timeline of implementation. Faison leadership also discussed developing an internal anonymous reporting system for staff members to use to report concerns to school leadership.

“We have an open door policy at Faison and asking questions about procedures is welcomed and aligns with our commitment to excellence,” wrote Faison CEO Brian McCann in an email response to VPM’s request for comment. “We recognize that some may wish to pose questions anonymously and for that reason we intend to create another mechanism to do so.”

McCann did not respond to VPM questions about what changes to staff training are planned.

In VPM’s original story on Faison, Colleen Miller, executive director for the Disability Law Center of Virginia, suggested that VDOE could “offer an anonymous tip line or anonymous hotline” for concerned parents or staff to report something concerning. She said having a school like the Faison Center develop their own internal system could be a good thing if the intention is to use it as a positive tool for learning and improvement.

“That does suggest a culture where they want to improve things. The hardest work we’ve got ahead of us [relating to seclusion and restraint] is in terms of culture change in these schools. Culture change has absolutely got to be implemented from the top down,” Miller said. “Of course we favor the role of independent watchdogs. But we cannot be everywhere, clearly. And if the leadership [of a school] is willing to say, this is important, we’re going to do something about it, that only makes it easier for the change to happen.”

A spokesperson for VDOE told VPM News that they do follow up on anonymous tips they currently receive, but couldn’t confirm if there’s a centralized system to receive such reports, other than through the department’s formal complaint process.

In a 142-page Faison trainee packet obtained by VPM News, part of an introductory training for new staff, only a few presentation slides detail seclusion. There’s also no mention of seclusion in another 47-page Faison training guide obtained by VPM News. The majority of the training, called CDeT, or “crisis de-escalation training” includes images and descriptions of different holds, restraints and ways to safely escape students’ aggressive advances. Faison reported 1,473 instances of restraint in the 2016 and 2017 combined school years, the second highest number behind the Plan Bee Academy in Chesapeake.

Speaking to VPM News on Wednesday before the Virginia Commission on Youth meeting, Republican Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell (R - Staunton) called some of the statistics on the use of seclusion and restraint in private day schools reported to VDOE “deplorable.”

“I think the numbers that are reflected this week are unacceptable for some of these schools, I really do,” Bell said. 

“We’ve never said - and we’re not saying now - that there should not be any form of restraint. Sometimes for the safety and welfare of the student or other students, you have to do it,” Bell added. “But it also should not be an avenue just to get rid of a student you don't want in your classroom. There’s gotta be limits. There have to be limits.”