How to restrain a student? We asked experts about the Montravious confrontation video.

24-minute video shows MCSD contractor taking Montravious Thomas to ground five times

Muscogee County School District has released footage from inside the classroom where 13-year-old Montravious Thomas and behavioral specialist Bryant Mosley had a physical altercation on Sept. 12, 2016.
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Muscogee County School District has released footage from inside the classroom where 13-year-old Montravious Thomas and behavioral specialist Bryant Mosley had a physical altercation on Sept. 12, 2016.

After going to court to obtain surveillance video of a physical confrontation between a student and behavior specialist, the Ledger-Enquirer has reached out to experts on de-escalation and restraint training to shed light on the situation.

The 24-minute video published in early August shows what happened between 13-year-old Montravious Thomas and contracted behavior specialist Bryant Mosley on Sept. 12, 2016, in the Muscogee County School District’s alternative school for students with severe discipline violations.

Montravious’ lawyers say he asked to leave the classroom to call his mother and Mosley said no and blocked the doorway. The lawyers also say Mosley “body-slammed” him five times and the resulting injury required his right leg to be amputated below the knee.

The student’s family filed a $25 million lawsuit, which is pending in state court. The Columbus Police Department’s investigation found no criminal wrongdoing.

In written reports, Mosley said Montravious was “physically aggressive,” and the paraprofessional in the classroom, Phyllis Fox, said, “Each time he was released, the student tried something else, threats of spitting/dustpan handle.”

Two experts from the Crisis Prevention Institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, agreed to an interview with the L-E. We spoke with chief customer officer Marvin Mason and executive director of training Jeff Schill.

CPI provides de-escalation training for school, healthcare environments and other places with a likelihood of behavior challenges, Mason said.

With 40 years of experience, CPI has trained approximately 37,000 active certified instructors for nonviolent crisis intervention from 17,000 facilities and 9,000 organizations, about half of them school districts, according to Mason.

There are 382 active certified instructors in 194 organizations in Georgia but none in Columbus/Muscogee County, Mason said.

Mason and Schill declined to share their opinion on the video, but they did agree to speak generally about training and best practices.

CPI trains instructors in nonviolent crisis intervention over four days. The instructors then go back to their organization and train colleagues in a 14-hour course with 10 units. The first eight are focused on prevention and de-escalation, Mason said. The ninth unit is on disengagement, he said, and the 10th unit is on restraint technique.

Here are excerpts from our interview, edited for brevity and clarity:

What are the de-escalation steps?

Schill: “Typically, when you’re looking at communication, you’re looking at nonverbal communication, which is often a large part of a crisis situation, because as emotions start to take over, people communicate through their nonverbals and respond to nonverbals more so than the actual words. … Our facial expressions, the way that we’re standing, the way that we’re moving, all of those things are sending very strong messages.”

If a student is denied a request to leave the room but still tries to leave, what should the staff member do?

Schill: “My first response would be: What is that individual trying to communicate to me? Why are they not wanting to stay in that room? Why are they walking around?”

What should the staff member do if the questions and dialogue don’t work?

Mason: “The thing we have to keep in mind when we think about things like precipitating factors — the many things that might lead up to a situation of crisis where a communication breakdown has occurred — that’s a pretty broad spectrum of possibilities. … So the enormous task of a staff person in that situation is to recognize it, understand it, and then apply an approach that doesn’t further agitate it but rather helps de-escalate it. So, a lot of times, without proper training, the tendency may be to respond more, say, primal. In a case where you’re feeling disrespected or feeling unheard or challenged, how do you process all that so you don’t take the path of reacting in a primal state but rather in more of a strategic approach.”

Mason: “For example, maybe you have a student who has a history of flying to the extreme very quickly, and the violence of that episode is severe. Or you have another one who doesn’t get quite as severe or has no history of going to an extreme degree. There’s a lot to assess in those situations to understand the appropriate level of response. So the question that you’re asking is a very difficult one to answer without first applying a lot of understanding of the individual who is presenting themselves in a state of crisis.”

When is restraining someone considered appropriate?

Schill: “If I’m going to limit a person’s range of motion, it’s typically because they’re injuring themselves or there’s a risk to injure someone else or myself as staff.”

Mason: “It’s assessing that the risk that’s being presented is greater than the intervention that’s being utilized to neutralize that risk, that’s the least restrictive.”

So what’s the proper way to restrain someone?

Mason: “Proper wouldn’t be the word that we would use to describe the situation. There would be a number of considerations a staff member would need to use to assess the situation and then utilize the technique that is balanced and proportionate.”

Can you describe some of those techniques?

Schill: “It’s a difficult one to answer because it could take many different forms … from manual restraints to — we don’t necessarily teach all these — but it goes all the way up to even mechanical and medical types of restraints.”

Schill: “One of the misperceptions around restraint is that it is stopping movement or holding a person completely still, and that’s not necessarily restraint. It could be, but our program focuses on how to limit the person’s range of movement. So it’s how to be respectful as possible, allow them to continue to move and use up their energy but to do so in an area or a space where it’s safe.”

What should the staff member do if the student is trying to get out of the room? Is any kind of physical contact appropriate, or should you just let the student go out?

Schill: “For a physical intervention, you would need to show there was a danger to self or others. … Is it a compliance (issue)? I just want that student to sit or that’s what’s expected? What’s outside of the room? Is it a danger if that individual stays in the room? A danger if they leave the room? It’s difficult to answer without knowing the setting.”

If a staff member is physically threatened by a student, what should they do? (The video shows Montravious with what later was identified as a dustpan handle.)

Mason: “In many cases, we’re going to teach the staff member to remove themselves from the situation. … Maybe it’s you, your communication, that’s actually contributing to the escalation of the situation.”

Schill: “Work as a team. It’s why it’s important for everybody in the school to be trained or have knowledge about crisis intervention.”

When is it appropriate for a staff member to take a student to the floor and get on top of him?

Schill: “In our nonviolent intervention course, we focus on seated and standing positions, because there’s increased risk when you go to the floor. … When you’re on top of that individual, the risks are increased from there.”

So is there ever a scenario when it’s appropriate for a staff member to be on top of a student on the floor?

Mason: “In our training, we do not teach any techniques of taking somebody from a standing position or an upright position to the floor. … We’re not teaching to escalate the risks associated with that. … Now, of course a staff person evaluating the situation and trying to assess the right proportionate response, there’s a lot of things to be considered. … To take the risk level that high, there must be something present that’s an even greater risk.”

Is there anything else that’s important for our readers to understand?

Mason: “Watching the video, it is a very emotional experience, and it’s a very sad scenario for everybody involved in that situation, including the staff member. … So when we all look at situations like this and want to pass judgment on somebody’s actions, there are questions about somebody’s intent versus the actual outcome. I think in this case, we can recognize that people in teaching environments are there to help create safe learning environments, and proper training is paramount to creating those types of scenarios in school districts everywhere.”

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.