School districts used restraint and seclusion as a method of discipline more than a quarter of a million times in 2011-12, the non-profit news organization ProPublica reported based on recently released data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights. And that number is likely an undercount, because several large districts, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, reported no cases during the school year, the report said.
Most of the students who face this kind of discipline in schools have disabilities, Pro Publica reported. (Education Week has also followed the topic of restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities closely, and this latest national look at the issue is sure to revive the conversation.)
The Pro Publica article by Heather Vogell begins with the story of Carson Luke, a 13-year-old with autism who had his hand slammed in a door when he was 10 as his teachers tried to take him to a seclusion room after he hit his teacher and threw his shoes at her. The incident, which left the boy with a deep cut and a broken bone in his hand, was accidental, school officials said. From the story:
For more than a decade, mental-health facilities and other institutions have worked to curtail the practice of physically restraining children or isolating them in rooms against their will. Indeed, federal rules restrict those practices in nearly all institutions that receive money from Washington to help the young—including hospitals, nursing homes and psychiatric centers. But such limits don't apply to public schools. Restraining and secluding students for any reason remains perfectly legal under federal law. And despite a near-consensus that the tactics should be used rarely, new data suggests some schools still routinely rely on them to control children.
The article then goes on to outline the attempts that have been made to publicize and address the topic of restraint and seclusion, such as the 2009 Government Accountability Office report that found cases of at least 20 children who have died after being restrained or secluded, and the several bills that have been introduced in Congress to curtail the practice (all unsuccessful so far, though states in some cases have enacted their own restrictive policies).
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.