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Connecticut: SPED kids restrained/secluded "hundreds of thousands of times annually"

May 5, 2023, CT Insider: CT collects troves of data on restraint, seclusion in schools. But does little with it
Last year, B.E.S.T. Academy, a private special education school in Wallingford, reported to the Connecticut State Department of Education that its staff had restrained and secluded students more than 500 times during the most recent school year — up 309 percent from the year before.
In response, the education department asked the school to explain its increase through a formal "justification report," initiating a review process the agency has touted as a tool to monitor schools' use of restraint and seclusion. Typically, these justification reports include several sentences, or sometimes a brief paragraph, outlining why restraint and seclusion numbers increased or decreased significantly from one year to the next.

In this case, though, B.E.S.T. Academy responded with only a single word that failed to explain much of anything: "Approved."

Education department officials followed up three times seeking further information, spokesperson Eric Scoville said, but never received a response and eventually gave up. Despite having received no additional information, the agency marked the case as "reviewed/closed."

The department now acknowledges more should have been done. "These should have been further verified/escalated, but upon review of the records we have access to at this time, it did not happen in this instance," Scoville said in an email following questions from CT Insider.

The agency's failure to investigate B.E.S.T. Academy in this instance highlights a concern advocates have raised for years: that although few states collect and publicly report as much data on restraint and seclusion in schools as Connecticut does, the state's education department rarely uses that data to monitor for problems at the local level or hold schools accountable for potential excessive use of the interventions.

While the department does investigate complaints that a specific student has been restrained or secluded unnecessarily, sometimes recommending corrective action such as additional training for staff, there is no equivalent process for regulating the interventions at the school or district level.

Officials acknowledge they don't typically follow up with schools when data shows certain students are restrained or secluded large numbers of times, and records obtained by CT Insider show the justification process relies heavily on the word of local officials to explain away anomalies in the data.

The department blames these shortfalls in oversight on staffing and resource shortages, while noting they are not required by state law to provide more oversight around restraint and seclusion than they currently do. They say a new data reporting system will improve their ability to monitor use of the practices in the coming years.

For now, advocates say, valuable data is going to waste.

"The question becomes, what's the follow-up? What do you do with that data?" said Sarah Eagan, the state's child advocate. "For the most part, we stop at the data."

Last fall, CT Insider and fellow Hearst Newspapers outlets published a national investigation revealing that children in schools across the country, particularly special education students, are physically restrained or secluded in locked rooms hundreds of thousands of times annually, resulting in thousands of injuries and dozens of deaths over the years.

In Connecticut, schools report restraining and secluding special education students tens of thousands of times each year, with Black students and those with autism most likely to face the interventions. Advocates describe restraint and seclusion as harmful and even traumatizing and argue that districts should use alternative methods to manage students in crisis.


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