New federal data shows that educators are continuing to rely on restraint and seclusion to address behavior issues among students with disabilities in the nation’s schools.

Nearly 102,000 students were subjected to the practices during the 2017-2018 school year. Of them, 79,676 were children with disabilities served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That’s according to figures released this month as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The trove of data, which is released every two years, is based on a survey of nearly every public school across the country.

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While just 13% of U.S. students are served under IDEA, these children accounted for 78% of all students who were subjected to restraint or seclusion, according to the report. They represented 80% of all physical restraints, 41% of all mechanical restraints and 77% of seclusions.

And, among students with disabilities, boys were most affected. They accounted for 83% of physical restraints, 82% of mechanical restraints and 84% of those who were subjected to seclusion.

There have been questions raised in recent years about the accuracy of the restraint and seclusion data collected by the Education Department. Earlier this year, a report from the Government Accountability Office found that the agency’s quality control system overlooked the fact that 70 percent of school districts reported zero incidents of restraint and seclusion during the 2015-2016 year.

This time around, the Education Department said that as part of a broader initiative underway since 2019 to address the inappropriate use of the practices, the agency worked to detect potentially erroneous data prior to the public release this month. The department said it reached out to 15,526 school districts that reported no cases of restraint or seclusion or otherwise questionable data. As a result, 1,148 districts corrected their submissions prior to the release.

“While self-reported data poses challenges, the quality assurance measures we have put into place help make this data more reliable than ever before,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Advocates said that the persistently high rates of restraint and seclusion among students with disabilities indicate that more needs to be done to address the issue.

“Given that the numbers have not gone down despite great attention to the need to do so, this data begs for a federal bill to once and for all draw a line in the sand that will protect our kids,” said Denise Marshall, CEO of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, a nonprofit that works to advocate for the rights of students with disabilities and their families.

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