FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Imagine feeling frustrated and vulnerable after being left in a room - and also after being dragged from your classroom.
Or imagine being a teacher and getting hurt by a student you're trying to help
It's what happens across the country - and here in Fargo - when seclusion and restraint is practiced in schools.
But now Fargo Schools is looking into new ways to end the practice.
At a recent education conference, Fargo Schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi and several school board members learned about Ukeru.
"We came up with a new system. We basically invented a crisis intervention system that teaches you how not to restrain and seclude," says Kimberly Sanders, the President of Ukeru Systems. "The biggest piece of Ukeru is this sense of trauma informed approaches and the philosophy of comfort versus control and a lot of the de-escalation that we teach."
"When everybody feels safe, then you can continue to strengthen relationships – where in the past, we were using restraints, I can speak from my own experience what would happen. You would work so hard to build a relationship with a student, and then you would restrain them and that breaks it. And so often – you build and break, build and break. With this, you don't break it," Sanders says.
Within her facility, Sanders says the program reduced incidents of restraint by 99%, totally eliminated seclusion, lowered staff injuries, and saved money.
"On top of all of that, one of the outcomes we weren't expecting to achieve was that we've been able to recapture about $17 million dollars over 14 years by doing this approach," Sanders says. "We've decreased our staff turn over from – I think we were as high as 54%, and we've gotten as low as 29%."
Since learning about Ukeru, Superintendent Gandhi has shared that information with the school district's safety committee, the special education department, and principals.
"It was a piece of information I shared with various departments or stakeholders in the district and said, 'This is just all I heard. Please go in and look into it.'" says Dr. Gandhi. "Kind of see if this is something we want to do – what does it look like? Do we pilot it, do we not pilot it? And things of that nature. And we'll see what they say."
But the program does have its skeptics. Part of the program requires educators to use blocking pads to help students release aggression if all other methods have failed.
"They train you on how to use the pad in a way where you're walking away or you're backing away so the child's not hurting you but they're also able to release whatever aggression they may have at that time," Dr. Gandhi says.
"When most people think of Ukeru, they do think of the blocking and the physical approach of the blocking pads," says Sanders. "That blocking was to create a safer environment for our staff as well as the students."
Sanders says skepticism is natural, but in the end - the program's results speak for themselves. In the three years Ukeru has been marketed, it has been picked up by 150 organizations across 28 states.
"To be frank and honest, it's not unusual for people to be super skeptical. We get that, we were skeptical of trying to come up with something different. We were in the mindset that seclusion and restraint were the only things to do. So we're used to seeing some skepticism, but it doesn't last very long because the program actually works," Sanders says. "We actually see staff and teachers and parents and everyone that are just so pleased because you will see a reduction in the use of restrictive practices."
"I really look forward to our team that's going to do the work and see if it's a fit for Fargo Public Schools," adds Dr. Gandhi.