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Schools May Be Underreporting Restraint, Seclusion


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Students were subject to restraint and seclusion hundreds of thousands of times in one school year, a new analysis finds, and that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg.

During the 2011-2012 school year, there were more than 267,000 instances of restraint and seclusion reported by the nation’s schools. The figure is believed to be low, however.

The numbers come from an analysis by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, which crunched data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Among students who were restrained, three-quarters had disabilities, federal officials said when they first released the data in March. Such children also represented 58 percent of those placed in seclusion rooms or some other form of involuntary confinement at school, the agency indicated.

Though the Education Department sought to gather data on the use of restraint and seclusion in every public school across the country, only a third of districts reported using the techniques even once, ProPublica found.

What’s more, schools in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — the country’s three largest districts — reported no instances, leading to questions about possible underreporting by schools.

Numerous reports from advocacy groups, lawmakers and government investigators have cited cases of injury and even death resulting from the use of restraint and seclusion. Currently, however, a patchwork of state rules govern the practices.

Efforts in Congress in recent years to establish nationwide standards limiting the use of restraint and seclusion in schools have stalled. While favored by disability advocates, groups representing school administrators have fought proposals to restrict the practices and insist that restraint and seclusion are only used as a last resort.

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Comments (3 Responses)

  1. Tom Delia says:

    What if we know of a situation in which a student is being held in seclusion (kept in the hallway with an aide all day)? Who do we contact in Michigan with this concern?

  2. KA101 says:

    I’m not in Michigan (try Pennsylvania) but I’d generally go with the state department of education, and specifically the special-ed/compliance-enforcement people.

    And as for the article, I’m not surprised. Schools aren’t noted for zealously adhering to special-education law, unfortunately.

  3. Shan says:

    I wonder if any of those who are commenting or attempting to make restraint and seclusion illegal in schools have ever worked with students that are significantly emotionally or behaviorally disregulated. I do, all the way to adulthood. It’s dangerous, even with proper training. I have had broken bones, teeth, concussions, scars from the gouges of fingernails and teeth. And yet I go to work everyday because I love my children. But I have to have the option to restrain or seclude in a safe and rule bound manner. If I don’t, I could easily be disabled myself. Who will continue working with certain student populations with no means to protect themselves and others?

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