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Education Department Unveils Long-Awaited Restraint, Seclusion Policy Roundup

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A summary of state policies on restraint and seclusion released Wednesday by the Department of Education reveals a patchwork system, whereby 16 states and territories report offering no rules, regulations or guidance whatsoever to schools regarding the controversial disciplinary practices.

The release of the summary comes nine months after Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Congress he wanted to have a “real clear plan” in place in each state for handling restraint and seclusion in schools before the beginning of the school year.

Pressure from Disability Scoop led Department of Education officials to say that they intended to release information about each state’s laws, regulations, policies and guidelines on restraint and seclusion practices by Feb. 12. But officials ultimately delayed the release for another week and a half after snow shut down federal offices in Washington for nearly a week.

Now the state summaries made public Wednesday provide a snapshot of the national landscape on restraint and seclusion. The information submitted by education officials in the 50 states, eight territories and the District of Columbia in response to a July 2009 letter to state schools chiefs varies greatly.

Some jurisdictions provided numerous pages of summaries and supporting documents. Others merely offered a brief and often vague accounting or simply provided a list of links to web pages with relevant state policies.

Officials at the Department of Education say the information provided is current as of December 2009 and may be updated when warranted.

Overall, the summaries indicate that 27 states and territories have no statutes or regulations governing restraint and seclusion. And 20 offer no policies or guidance to schools on the practices. Meanwhile 16 states and territories offer neither laws nor guidance.

There is some good news: 33 states and territories report working to develop or revise their rules. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion >>)

“Restraint and seclusion policies should be reviewed regularly to prevent the abuse of such techniques and ensure that schools provide a safe learning environment for all of our children,” Duncan said in a statement. “I am pleased that many states and territories have begun to work with their stakeholders to develop or revise current practices. The department will continue to serve as a resource throughout the process to ensure that all students are safe and protected.”

Nonetheless, advocates say states are not moving fast enough to curb often abusive and even deadly practices of restraint and seclusion in schools, often affecting students with disabilities. Since a federal report was released last year documenting harmful results from such disciplinary approaches, just a handful of states have moved to institute new rules.

Now Congress is looking into the issue. A bill passed by a House committee earlier this month would replace a hodgepodge of state rules with federal oversight of restraint and seclusion practices in schools. The legislation must now be considered by the full House and taken up in the Senate before it can become law.

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