School & District Management

Seclusion in N.C. District Legal, Feds Say

By Nirvi Shah — September 18, 2012 2 min read
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An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights concludes that a North Carolina school district’s use of seclusion rooms to deal with students’ aggressive behavior doesn’t conflict with federal disability law.

The Wilmington, N.C. StarNews reported Monday that an office of civil rights investigation into the practice in New Hanover schools has concluded, with the agency finding that the district was complying with a state law that allows practices including seclusion rooms to deal with aggressive student behavior.

Parents of a 5-year-old student with disabilities filed a complaint with the office for civil rights in January, saying the seclusion rooms were used exclusively for students with disabilities, the newspaper wrote.

The complaint led to the formation of N.C. Fear Free Education, a parent group that seeks to ban the use of seclusion and restraint. They join a chorus of voices opposed to restraining and secluding students, especially students with disabilities, at school.

UPDATE: The U.S. Education Department had a somewhat different take on its own findings, however. The agency told me its investigation found no evidence that the student was secluded, and that it found that the district wasn’t discriminating against students with disabilities in using seclusion. The district used seclusion rooms similarly for students with and without disabilities.

But the office for civil rights’ letter of findings to the district referred to a new resource document about restraint and seclusion, noting that the document says "...restraint or seclusion should never be used except in situations where a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others, and restraint and seclusion should be avoided to the greatest extent possible without endangering the safety of students and staff. ...As many reports have documented, the use of restraint and seclusion can have very serious consequences, including, most tragically, death. Furthermore, there continues to be no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective in reducing the occurrence of the problem behaviors that frequently precipitate the use of such techniques.”

And the Education Department told me they made no determination about whether the district’s seclusion practices comply with state law.

Over the summer, the U.S. Senate heard testimony from school employees from all over the country about the issue.

Many hope Congress will pass the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which would sharply restrict the use of these practices.

But some school administrators say these practices seclusion and restraint are necessary to keep students and staff safe.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.