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Harsh Discipline More Common For Students With Disabilities


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Federal officials say schools are restraining and secluding kids with disabilities far more often than other children and are disproportionately referring them to law enforcement.

Statistics released Friday from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights reveal widespread disparities in discipline between students in special education and their typically-developing peers.

Kids with disabilities represent three-quarters of children physically restrained and 58 percent of those placed in seclusion or some other form of involuntary confinement at school, the Education Department said. Such children are also more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension.

What’s more, federal officials found that children served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act account for a quarter of all students who are arrested and referred to law enforcement by schools.

Meanwhile, kids with disabilities represent just 12 percent of the nation’s students.

The findings come from the Education Department’s most comprehensive civil rights data release since 2000. For the report, officials with the agency’s Office of Civil Rights looked at information gathered from all of the nation’s 97,000 public schools related to the 2011-2012 school year.

The routine reporting is intended to assess whether students have equal access to education and offers federal agencies information so they can better enforce civil rights laws.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain. In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Beyond discipline, the report indicates that students with disabilities are more commonly held back a grade, less likely to have access to a full range of math and science courses at their high school and are more likely to attend schools with high rates of teacher absenteeism.

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Comments (22 Responses)

  1. Staci says:

    Can you provide a link to the report?

  2. Martha Gabler says:

    This disturbing outcome is something we read about all too often. It shows that schools are ignorant of, or failing to use well-known, highly effective methods of instruction and behavior management in the classroom. Students with disabilities need to be carefully assessed to determine their academic skill levels. Once their levels are determined, they need effective, scientifically-based, research-validated methods of instruction to gain academic skills: Direct Instruction curricula are especially powerful programs for teaching even the most severely affected students. For these students, as for all students, the science of Applied Behavior Analysis tells us that positive behavioral supports should be standard operating procedure in the schools. Students don’t want to be ignorant, fail, and cause problems; they want to learn and experience success. We have the scientific solutions to both the academic and emotional problems that lead to these distressing reports. Let’s use these made-in-America interventions so that all students can experience academic success and personal growth.

  3. Renee says:

    Speaking as a mother who has had 2 children in special ed and who has removed her youngest from school twice for the excessive restraint on one child that has resulted in PTSD, I can only say that this is not new. I have filed complaints with OCR about this, but they have done NOTHING!!

  4. Nichole Opdyke says:

    I teach 6 students with severe autism and came home with two black eyes today because we are told not to restrain…but a 6’2″ 19 year old student of mine head butted me repeatedly today and sent me home with bruises. At what point do we reach our breaking point and allow these injuries to staff before reacting to protect ourselves so we CAN teach on Monday? Because now I’m an autism certified teacher who is out for a week with work injuries.

  5. Linda D. Montalbano says:

    What do you expect when teachers have immunity and they are allowed to do whatever they want to children under their control.

  6. Jennifer Turley says:

    I have taught MH classrooms for numerous years, and we told to use restraint as a LAST resort. I have beenbitten, kkicked, slapped, punched, and had various items thrown at me. In many schools, this is a LAST RESORT! we cannot and will not allow injury to the other students, or to the student who is losing control. It IS, at times, necessary.

  7. Cathy says:

    A lot of educators are hostile toward having these kids in their classrooms. One way an immature person repels is by making sure a situation doesn’t work out and using this kind of punishment is a way to say that this isn’t working and make it undesirable to have your child in that classroom. I watched some videos of children being abused and a couple that actually died because of “physical restraint” and no one gets charged for it. Our son has Down syndrome and now is an adult. He attended school for only 3 years and I wish he had never attended. This was in the 90’s and the time-out room was pretty much a standard. He went in one and came out without his two front teeth that were not even loose when he left for school. He was belted in his chair when he was only 5 until I found out it was being done. I always wonder what I did not catch them doing. We even had an expert go into the schools and this guy was well known and was willing to do this without payment just to get into this school system because he had “heard” and he wrote up a positive behavioral plan and the educators refused to use the plan. We used the strategies at home and they worked perfectly with the main objective being “redirection” and how easy is that and how lazy do you have to be to not be willing to “redirect” a behavior? Working as an on-call substitute aide in the classrooms, I once called and complained about a bolted door on a time out closet after a boy was put in there and two hours later there was a fire drill and he was missing once we were outside. The school told the asst. superintendent that the bolt lock was removed and it was not. After I called again to complain, the asst sup went out himself and removed the lock bolt. The mother did not know this was being done to her son as “discipline”. The head of the department told me that it was against the privacy law to tell the things I saw, the woman who called the kids in special education “dummies” during the staff meetings. Since I moved around in classrooms in a large district, it was an education. We were in 3 states and all the programs were pitiful. Now we are trying to deal with adult services and it is just scary since our son is non-verbal. The educators, term used loosely, need to be held accountable since they are criminals when they abuse the children. I don’t think you could teach them compassion but anger management would definitely be a requirement if I were making the rules. The things I saw on the video clips were so horrible that I could not watch them all. I can guarantee you that the bullies in the school systems aren’t all children!

  8. carly says:

    This is just pathetic. Alleged special ed teachers and autism certified some of them.
    It sounds to me with these results which is just about torture and abuse
    get an attorney and start a lawsuit.

    Why is there not a class action suit attorneys out there ??? you firm would make tons of money while helping the kids and adults.

    The only thing that works is lawsuits. It is all about your children. Don’t forget they are the ones abused and tortured. They probably don’t even understand what is going on.

    Nursing homes can not longer restrain residents. It is against the law. So the staff has learned to effectively help residents that have problems.

    Why is that ??? because relatives of the abused Sued and Won.

    Why are not restraints against the law for people with disabilities. There is no excuse

    Hop to it parents and attorneys. This can be fixed!!!


    They haven’t yet learned the sensory issues will often cause this behavior?? Obviously, which has been proven through studies that if the child or adult is NOT IN THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT at school then children with autism will act out. This how they communicate.

    The children and 19 year olds should be in the least restrictive environment so they can learn academics and life skills.

    PS I am not an attorney but the court system is there for a reason.

  9. Denise says:

    Work with students with disabilities for awhile and you will know why police are called and children get secluded. 9 times out of 10 it is for the safety of the other children in the class room. Typical students are entitled to a peaceful educational setting where they are not threatened.

  10. Adrienne says:

    Nicole Opdyke, by 19 years old, the damage has been done if this child has only known aggressive and/or punitive behavior interventions. THIS is the exact reason why ABA is used, instead of ineffective methods currently deployed in public schools. Negative reinforcement, particularly through aversives, doesn’t work with children on the spectrum. What you inevitable end up with is grown adults with dangerous defensive reactions to impeding aversives. ABA is the only scientifically proven therapeutic measure for children on the spectrum, full stop. Since the number of children with autism is increasing, school districts need to be sending SPED teachers to ACCREDITED ABA certification. The net-net result will be spectrum children who will have futures as tax payers, instead of a lifetime of dependence on the welfare system.

  11. Wendi says:

    Sadly as a substitute for over 10 years I have seen it. Some paras really need to be either watched better or trained better as I have never felt comfortable seeing these kids just reamed for not following thru on a task. Why we say this is ok ill never understand. On the other hand they also have to be on the forefront of some intense challenges. So much more I could share….

  12. Bonnie says:

    To me, the mistake here lies in referring to restraint as “punishment.” Restraint should be used only to protect the child from hurting him or herself or others, never to punish.

  13. Jane Doe says:

    Countless teachers are aggressively, physically assaulted by students with disabilities on a daily basis across the U.S. When students become physically aggressive, even as a result of their disability, they endager not only school staff, but other students as well. Who is to be protected? The aggressor, the 4-14 other children in the room, or (God forbid) the teacher? The article fails to address this reality. And parents, you must understand that if your child is unable to control themselves or express themselves thru any other means than physical aggression, then inclusion is not appropriate. The LRE mandates that students are removed only when the nature and severity of the disability is such that satisfactory learning cannot be achieved. Teachers are mandated by federal law to teach core curriculum, which does not cover behavior modification and does not allow them to stop instruction to address disruptive behaviors on a daily basis. We as a nation need to decide what our priorities for special education are.

  14. rose says:

    Whats frustrating is that we clearly have good behavior managment techniques available but parents and teachers hear, ” We don’t do ABA. We don’t do one on one.” I certainly sympathized with teachers who are being injured. This also should not be. However in many school systems if the teacher can’t figure it out, its the childs problem. Certainly these kids do have issues, impulse control, disruptive behavior, etc but the school system should be able to support these kids. One size doesn’t fit all types of learners or disabilties, yet in many systems that is whats happening. And that affects students, teachers, parents, and the community.

  15. Tracy says:

    I can testify that I had seen a special education teacher abusing a girl with cognition disability when I was a child. Being deaf, I thought teachers would defend me but I was put in a sick room and beaten with a wooden paddle by the same special ed teacher. She told thaw authorities that I was being disrespectful and I needed to be spanked! This was in 1976 this teacher got away with it I never trusted any special education teacher ever again. Unfortunately this wasn’t my last abuse I had to endure as a deaf student.

  16. Michelle C says:

    Due to their lack of understanding and lack of appropriate communication techniques, it doesn’t surprise me that children with dev. disabilities are restrained more than their peers who understand consequences. I would hope that most schools use this technique only when necessary and that is to protect. What surprises me in this article is that these kids are also more likely to be referred to law enforcement. I recently worked with someone who biologically is an older teen, but adaptively is about 6 years old. His IEP procedures weren’t followed then restraint procedures were not implemented effectively. His behavior elevated and he bit a teacher. That teacher then decided to press charges and the young man was taken to jail. Who sends a 1st grader to jail for biting? He didn’t even have the ability to understand what jail was. He did learn that he got an interesting afternoon out of school for biting though which is very concerning. The whole team let this young man down.

  17. Patricia conway says:

    my grandson has autism,but it does not effect his intelligence . It does effect his abilitiy to answer in a timely manner and for my lack of truly understanding his brain builds stress and has meltdowns. since he is intelligent his teachers think he does it on purpose and he is sent to in school detention or quiet room at least three or for times a week sometimes we are not even told.He has been suspended. We have been told they will send him to the hospital and not deal with him. He gets so frustrated he goes to a teacher who knows him and works well with him,unfortunately she is at another school. He has almost made it twice!

  18. Advocat says:

    To the teachers complaing of being hit. I have worked with severely disabled adults for over 30 years. I went into my profession knowing two things. I would face agression and I had to learn skills to avoid agression. I was sucker punched once by an older fellow who resided in an apartment program I supervised. I DESERVED TO BE PUNCHED. I was disrespectful, arrogant and stupid. I have never faced agression again. Learn how to manage behavior. It is your job just as much as mine and if you can’t learn how stop being a special education teacher. I could care less about a teacher who can’t do the work of special education. I care about all of the kids who have PTSD after years of abusive behavior by school staff, hours spent in seclusion and restraint. I write this in memory of Angelika who lost her life when an angry male educator sat on her chest until she was dead. That was the punishment she received for BLOWING BUBBLES IN HER MILK.

  19. Kimyada says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. My 6 year who has CP and epilepsy was being restrained and put in seclusion at school and she is in an orthopedically disadcantaged sekf contained class. As a result, she became aggressive. Had to file a complaint with the district and state before chanes were made.

  20. Edna Murphy says:

    This article is reporting the statistics on physical restraint and seclusion, two things that we, as sped tchrs are required by law to report. It makes sense that the stastics are higher for this population…general ed staff are not required to report the use of restraint on a general ed student!!! We are also trained in how to use these techniqies safely and appropriately to ensure the safety of the student who is out of control physically as well as the other students in the room and ourselves. Used correctly these methods are the opposite of abusive. I would imagine that many teachers of special ed students who demonstrate physically aggressive behaviors are like myself, and take/all themselves to receive abusive behavior, injurious and horribly agressive behavior mich past what is acceptable in an attempt to avoid the use of physical restraint because we prefer not to use it. My parapro and I are highly skilled educators and effective in behavior modification, with well-stocked tool chests. Yet our school district does nit allow the use of seclusionary time out unfortunately for both students and staff, and so she and I sustain multiple injuries daily. Currently, she has a casted broken hand (broken bone in hand, not finger) – angry student kicked her hand and broke it. I was kicked in the head by a raging student two plus years ago and have a MTBI. I received horrible workers comp care, was returned to work while still very ill, bit followed orders because i was told “these head injuries take time…sometimes a year or more…” I now have a new workers comp doctor and have been told that I will not recover. I should have been on on Brain Rest from the beginning. But I followed district doc orders…didnt miss a day tho dealing with symptoms daily due to my dedication. SOOOO….i see that in some of the replies, respondents are saying tjat the use of physical restraint and seclusion is abuse and sick or whatever. NO IT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT. Are there some bad sped teachers? You betcha. I am so sorry if your child has one. Advocate for him. I am sure you are. And when your child has a good teacher, get your butt in that classroom and volunteer, buy the tangible reonforcers so the teacher doesnt have to, send letters of praise in to her admin, and don’t forget to give her a Christmas gift. And if you see that your child’s teacher is being abused? (You will be able to tell because she will have bite marks, bruises, limps, ice packs, or your child will come home with a note saying “Little Johnny kicked Ms. Murphy today.”) Support her .

  21. Edna Murphy says:

    In addition, to clarify, I teach EBD – emotionally and behaviorally disordered students. Perhaos what some readers of this article don’t understand is that the reporting requirements apply to all students with disabilities not just students with autism or developmental disabilities.

  22. Fatuma Bulle says:

    What if you were brilliant but could not communicate? what if you are limited English and you need services for child with disability? How can you advocate and support your child? I’ve often wondered about what’s really going on in the mind of a person who cannot share their thoughts.

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