The Department of Education recently released the new Civil Rights Data Collection that analyzed equities and disparities in educational opportunities in our nation’s schools during the 2009-2010 school year. Data were gathered from 72,000 schools, or roughly 85% of students. Among the data examined was the frequency with which students were secluded or restrained. Almost 70% of the 38,792 students who were restrained during the past calendar year had disabilities, although students with disabilities comprise only about 12% of the student population. African-American males, who make up only 21% of the student population with disabilities, represented 44% of those students restrained. And finally, although approximately half of students with disabilities are male, 70% of students with disabilities who were restrained were male. According to TASH and other disability groups, the data are sobering. TASH characterizes the use of restraint and seclusion as an issue of “national significance,” which leads to “traumatic physical and emotional harm, and even death.” In a press release, Barb Trader, the executive director of TASH, states, “Our students need equitable access to education and protection for their personal safety under the law, and clearly that’s not happening for students with disabilities or those from diverse backgrounds. It is a national tragedy that any child, especially the most vulnerable, is not safe in school.”
On the same day the Civil Rights Data Collection report was issued, the National Disability Rights Network chastised the Education Department for its failure to do more to restrict the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. According to Curt Decker, executive director of the NDRN, the Department of Education has failed to provide “any meaningful leadership to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion—despite the fact that students are continuing to be confined, tied up, pinned down, battered and nearly killed on a regular basis.” As discussed in a January 18, 2012 blog on this site, it was the NDRN which in a January 2009 report (School is Not Supposed to Hurt) shined a painful light on the use of seclusion and restraint, which are often unregulated and used disproportionately on children with disabilities, frequently resulting in injury, trauma, and even death. As a result of this report, a subsequent study undertaken by the Government Accountability Office in 2009 revealed that an estimated 200 students had died in the previous five years as the result of inappropriate use of restraint. The GAO report led to pending federal legislation designed to eliminate or restrict the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools.
Conversely, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has also just released a report this month titled “Keeping Schools Safe: How Seclusion and Restraint Protects Students and School Personnel.” The AASA argues that 99% of school personnel use “seclusion and restraint safely, responsibly, and only when circumstances truly demand their application.” According to the AASA, seclusion and restraint techniques actually enable students to remain in school and keep them out of institutions. The report derides legislative efforts to prohibit their use in schools.
TASH blasts the AASA report which it says ignores the growing evidence that seclusion and restraint are dangerous and traumatic techniques to use for everyone involved. TASH is disturbed that the AASA report focuses on the safety of school staff and ignores the high trauma rate, injuries, and even deaths of students who are restrained. Although the AASA claims that these techniques are used only in emergency situations, TASH argues that they are in fact used for convenience and punishment.
Both TASH and the NDRN say that the Department of Education needs to do more to highlight and end the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. The NDRN urges the Department of Education not only to offer clear instruction on when these practices violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or IDEA, but also guidance on limiting the use of restraint and seclusion. In addition, the NDRN wants the Department of Education to use its own data to analyze why some school districts use restraint and seclusion more than others, what is leading to the high usage in these districts, and fund research and projects to reduce and ultimately prevent the use of any forms of restraint and seclusion in schools. Ultimately, both the NDRN and TASH, as well as other disability groups, argue that the data recently released by the Department of Education provide further justification for passing the bills currently waiting in both the Senate and House that preclude the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. Moreover, from a personal perspective, I have seen too many students suffer emotional and physical harm from restraint from seclusion. Many incidents of students being suspended or expelled for "hitting staff" have been in connection with the use or attempted use of restraint or to put a student into seclusion.