Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt is sending state staffers to the Jefferson County school district to investigate underreporting of restraint and seclusion in the 101,000-student district.
The Louisville Courier-Journal, which has been investigating restraint and seclusion incidents in the state’s largest school system, reported this week that Pruitt called the district’s actions a “significant deficiency:"
[The district] has frustrated the use of data to inform local efforts and has masked issues at the local level that are ripe for state assistance and public scrutiny," Pruitt said in the letter. Pruitt warned that "if the management review indicates the presence of critically ineffective or inefficient management, a full management audit will be conducted," which has the possibility of leading to state assistance or state management of the district.
In March, the Courier-Journal reported that the district reported 174 instances of restraint and seclusion to the state for the 2014-15 school year. The actual number of students held down or confined to a room, however, topped 4,000.
The newspaper’s reporting showed that district officials knew that the restraint and seclusion numbers reported to the state were incomplete. District officials said that its employees were reporting incidents to an internal database, not the state reporting system. Pruitt, quoted in the newspaper, said that the school system “has a long history of bucking state-provided technology resources in favor of district-initiated platforms.”
In 2013, Kentucky adopted rules that said students were not to be restrained or secluded in school unless they are a threat to themselves or others. Parents are also supposed to be notified of any use of restraint or seclusion within 24 hours.
But how well Kentucky districts are following that policy has come into question.
For example, in May, the district settled for $1.75 million with a 16-year-old student whose thighs were broken when he was restrained in 2014. The student, who has autism, spent several weeks in rehabilitation for his injuries, the newspaper reported. Three separate investigations did not find evidence of abuse or mistreatment, but a state panel that investigates child abuse in the state has recently recommended that officials reopen the investigation.
Also, in 2015, the ACLU sued a different Kentucky district for handcuffing a 3rd grader, which was caught on video. That case is still pending.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.