New hires make difference in student behavior

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
Although the needs for special education students continue to grow as well as the need for funding special education programs statewide, Bristol Public Schools has worked on creating a program that meets those needs in a cost effective way.
For the current school year, three full-time board-certified behavioral analysts were hired in the district, which cost the district $237,000, said Dr. Kim Hapken, director of special services. Each analyst was assigned to each of the two elementary school programs, and one full-time analyst was split between two middle school programs.
During a school board meeting held last Wednesday, Hapken noted the number of positive changes the district has seen as a result of these new hires. Hapken said those behavioral analysts were needed because during the 2012-2013 school year, principals and staff members had a difficult time managing children with “significant behavioral challenges.”
“The purpose was to decrease the disruptions in the school and to potentially increase the children’s ability to participate in the general education program,” said Hapken, adding that the behavioral analysts also worked with staff on collecting data. “What we also did was retrain staff…to be better case managers.”
Hapken said one of the biggest positive changes of retraining staff was the fact that now school psychologists can link families with community support services their children may need. During her presentation to the school board, Hapken noted a number of other improvements in the district, including a decrease in the number of staff injuries and student suspensions, as well as an increase in instructional time.
In the 2012-13 school year, one Bristol elementary school with a classroom containing six to seven special education students, saw challenges for staff members who tried to manage children with behavioral disorders, said Hapken. Hapken said in that school during the 2012-13 year, 40 calls were made to emergency medical personnel, who arrived to the school to assess those children. She added there also were five ambulance calls as well as two police calls because children with behavioral disorders either assaulted or injured staff members.
Although all staff in the class was trained in de-escalation and restraint and seclusion, the children’s behavior became so aggressive that they had a difficult time handling the situation.
“Staff injuries ranged from small bites, bruises to actual concussion of one of our staff members,” said Hapken, adding there were 60 restraints and eight seclusions. “In that same year, 65 days of suspension occurred between those six to seven children.”
Hapken said the students’ behavior was so aggressive that five out-of-district replacements occurred as a result during the 2012-13 school year, which cost the district $500,000. To date, there are 137 special education students from Bristol who are out-placed, reported Hapken.
“That same year we had more than 10 DCF referrals for those children,” said Hapken, adding staff spent a tremendous amount of time managing the classroom, which disrupted instructional time. “Last year, we did not have to place a single child out of district because of these programs, so we essentially saved $500,000.”
During the meeting, Bristol Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ellen Solek said she and Hapken plan to meet with Wheeler Clinic soon to look at developing other in-house programs that could allow additional students who were placed out of the district to return if they transition successfully.
“That is a plan in progress at this point,” said Solek.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.gavel