Federal

Restraint and Seclusion, and Disability Rights: Ed. Department Has Work to Do, Audit Finds

By Libby Stanford — July 13, 2022 4 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Department of Education should increase its attention on preventing the underreporting of restraint and seclusion problems involving students, ensuring parents understand special education rights, and helping states provide more transparency on charter school management organizations, the Government Accountability Office says.

The GAO, an auditing arm of Congress, regularly releases recommended priorities for government agencies. In a June 28 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, which was made available to the public on July 5, GAO officials outlined five total education priorities, three of which focused on “ensuring the well-being and education of the nation’s school-age children.”

Restraint and seclusion of students

The first recommendation would have the Education Department’s office for civil rights identify the factors that lead to misreporting and underreporting of students who are restrained or secluded in school. The Education Department agreed with the recommendation and has already committed to evaluating and analyzing trend data from past civil rights data collections to identify the causes of underreporting and misreporting, according to the report.

However, the GAO believes the department should go farther by working directly with school districts. During the 2017-18 school year, the most recent year of data available, 101,990 U.S. students were subjected to restraint or seclusion, according to the Education Department’s office for civil rights.

“Until [the Education Department] more fully understands why so many school districts are underreporting and misreporting federal restraint and seclusion data, it will likely not be able to help districts improve their reporting, thereby improving the accuracy and utility of the data,” the report said.

Helping parents know their special education rights

The GAO report also recommended that the department work to combat misinformation surrounding special education rights. Specifically, the department should ensure that parents understand changes in federal special education law when they place their students with disabilities in private schools.

In February, the department released updated guidance related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act rules for students in private schools. Some state agencies have not updated information to reflect the changes, the report said. The department should work with state education agencies to correct inaccurate information on Individuals with Disabilities Education Act services in light of the new guidance. The department “generally agreed” with the recommendation, according to the report.

Charter-management organizations

The GAO’s final recommendation targets states’ underreporting of information on management organizations that contract with charter schools, especially virtual charter schools. In order to receive federal funding, charter schools have to divulge if they contract with for-profit organizations. But only 16 states have laws requiring charter schools to prove they aren’t run by a for-profit company, according to a January 2020 study from the Education Commission of the States, an education policy research organization.

The Education Department should take steps to help states report accurate data by gathering information on how states determine if charter schools have contracts with management organizations, the recommendation said. The department should also modify the instructions for data submissions on charter school contracts and clarify the definition of a management organization to include the for-profit status of the organizations, the report said.

Without improving data quality, the department won’t be able to mitigate “elevated financial and programmatic risks” that arise with charter schools, the report said.

The department agreed with the recommendation, according to the report. Recent changes to its Charter School Program funding rules, for example, are aimed at combating mismanagement of charter school funds and preventing charter school closures by requiring incoming charter schools to disclose any contracts with for-profit education management organizations. The program provides federal grants to charter schools in their first three years of operation.

The GAO report also gave an update on past Education Department priorities. Since June 2021, for example, the department took steps to regularly collect and report information on state and school district spending of COVID-19 relief funds. It also fulfilled two recommendations to improve restraint and seclusion data by developing business rules that target school districts that report both very low and very high incidents of restraint and seclusion, according to GAO.

As of May 2022, the department had 60 unfulfilled GAO recommendations, the report said. Those recommendations include an updated review of school cybersecurity threats and efforts to improve low-performing teacher preparation programs.

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Use Your 'Teacher Voice,' Jill Biden Urges in a Push for Political Activism
Voting in the midterms is a critical step educators can take to bolster democracy, the first lady and other labor leaders told teachers.
5 min read
First Lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention, Friday, July 15, 2022, in Boston.
First lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Federal Federal Initiative Leverages COVID Aid to Expand After-School, Summer Learning
The Education Department's Engage Every Student effort includes partnerships with civic organizations and professional groups.
3 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event on June 2, 2022, at the Department of Education in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks at an event at the Department of Education in Washington in June. The department has announced a push for expanded access to after-school and summer learning programs.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Biden Administration Boosts Grants for Community Schools, Sharpens Funding Priorities
The Education Department will award $68 million through its Full-Service Community Schools program.
2 min read
First-graders Rhiannon Hanson, left, and Holden Ashbrook make fruit skewers in class at Lincoln Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa, on Jan. 20, 2022. Project Rooted has partnered with Dubuque Community Schools for a pilot program in which it provides monthly boxes containing local foods and a project to first-grade classrooms.
First-graders Rhiannon Hanson, left, and Holden Ashbrook make fruit skewers at Lincoln Elementary School in Dubuque, Iowa. The U.S. Department of Education is providing grants to high-quality community schools that provide wraparound services like the nutrition programs at Lincoln Elementary.
Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald via AP
Federal Biden's Tutoring Initiative: What Will It Mean for Learning Recovery?
The effort aims to help students by providing a pipeline of support in the recruitment of volunteers and use of COVID aid money.
4 min read
President Joe Biden speaks at Max S. Hayes Hight School, Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Cleveland. The speech showcased a final rule tied to his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package from last year. The rule allows troubled multi-company pensions to be made financially whole, ensuring full benefits for 2 million to 3 million workers and retirees.
President Joe Biden speaks at Max S. Hayes High School in Cleveland. The administration announced a new effort to bring 250,000 tutors and mentors to American schools over the next three years.
David Dermer/AP