Schools Get Guidance On Restraint, Seclusion
Before leaving office, the Obama administration is releasing a flurry of guidance related to the rights of students with disabilities in the nation’s schools.
The U.S. Department of Education is weighing in on everything from restraint and seclusion to charter schools in a series of “Dear Colleague” letters and other resources distributed to educators just before the end of the year.
In the correspondence, the agency outlines limitations on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools warning that the practices could be discriminatory.
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A separate letter addresses the rights of those with disabilities applying to or attending charter schools and specifies that children retain their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in such environments.
At the same time, a guide for parents and educators also issued by the Education Department details obligations that school districts have under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
“These guidance documents share information with our full school communities — educators, parents and students — about important educational rights, including school obligations to identify, evaluate and serve students with disabilities,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights. “Vigilant attention to the rights of students with disabilities will help ensure fair treatment for every student and that every student has equal access to educational programs and has an opportunity to experience success.”
The guidance related to restraint and seclusion comes more than four years after the Education Department offered a 45-page resource document on the issue. At the time, disability advocates were disappointed that the agency did not issue official guidance.
Federal figures from the 2013-2014 school year indicate that students with disabilities account for 67 percent of those subject to restraint and seclusion at school even though they represent just 12 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren. The disparity suggests that discrimination could be at play, Lhamon wrote in the new “Dear Colleague” letter.
Specifically Lhamon said it is discriminatory if restraint and seclusion is used in a manner that unnecessarily treats students with disabilities different from other kids or in a way that denies children their right to a free appropriate public education.
Previously, the letter said that “the department recommended that school districts never use mechanical restraint, that school districts never use physical restraint or seclusion for disciplinary purposes and that trained school officials should use physical restraint or seclusion only if a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others.”
Meanwhile, the Education Department said that new guidance clarifying the rights of students with disabilities at charter schools is in response to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report which found that such students were underrepresented.
“It is critical to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education in charter schools,” said Sue Swenson of the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, which issued the charter guidance jointly with the Office for Civil Rights.
“These guidance documents are designed to support states, local education agencies and charter school personnel to understand their responsibilities under IDEA and Section 504,” she said.