The spending bill signed into law by President Trump, which includes nearly $71 billion for the Department of Education, also includes a directive for a government watchdog agency to study restraint and seclusion in schools.
The language (shown here on page 65 of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives) tells the Government Accountability Office to “conduct a further study” on the restraint and seclusion data that is reported to the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights.
“There is concern that seclusion and restraint issues continue to be chronically underreported. In particular, GAO is encouraged to evaluate recommendations for improving data collection at any school, including any special education or alternative school, that serves students, ages 3-21. In fulfilling the requested study, the GAO should also include recommendations, including examples of best practices, of how schools are adopting effective alternatives to these practices and reducing the incidence of seclusion and restraint.”
In 2017, Education Week ran an article investigating restraint and seclusion incidents reported during the 2013-14 school year. The data reported to the federal government showed that nearly 70,000 special education students were restrained or secluded in that school year, and states reported more than 200,000 such incidents, meaning that on average, a special education student was restrained or secluded about three times.
However, the article noted that figure was almost surely an undercount of actual incidents. Many large districts, including New York City and Chicago, were among the nearly 80 percent of districts that reported no special education students being restrained or secluded. And other advocacy organizations conducting their own investigations have also found undercounts.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.