Local teen with bipolard disorder restrained and secluded in school for years wants change

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POSTED Monday, October 21, 2013-- 5:40 p.m.

"I would get restrained and thrown in the room," said 19-year-old Donovan Richards.

Donovan Richards says he was secluded in a room in the Middleton-Cross Plains School numerous times beginning in kindergarten sometimes for hours at a time.

"I would just get more upset from that point," said Richards.

Donovan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age four.

"School was really challenging. It wan an anxiety producing environment," said Donovan's mother, Paula Buege.

Paula said she didn't even know these measures were being taken until one day in second grade, Donovan had a psychotic break.

"It was unclear if he was gonna recover," she said. "It was kind of appalling that there were no guidelines, and kids were getting hurt, staff were getting hurt."

Paula decided to take action and start from within. She was hired on the Middleton-Cross Plains School district in 2001 as their parent liaison and student intervention support. Hoping for better response from teachers and better results for Donovan, she developed a behavioral implementation plan with the district.

"Everyone around him was a little more equiped, so it didn't get to that escalated state," said Buege.

In 2009 she wanted to take her efforts statewide, now working for Wisconsin Family Ties. But she knew real change would come from legislation. Just last year, Paula and Donovan were there when Governor Walker signed act 125 into law, requiring schools to record every use of seclusion and restraint and notify parents.

"I think the great challenges facing our youth going forward are mental health needs, and more specifically unmet mental health needs," said Middleton-Cross Plains School district's director of student services, Jerry Nicholson.

Now at Middleton-Cross Plains Schools, Nicholson says the use of seclusion and restraint has decreased by nearly 50 percent.

"The key piece to all of these situations is the relationship with the family and student," said Nicholson.

Middleton-Cross Plains also provides training in mental health services to their staff. Madison Schools implemented a mental health task force just over the past year. And Wisconsin Family Ties is putting on a conference about children's mental health in Wausau on November 11.