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GAO report calls for 'immediate action' by Dept of Ed on under reporting of restraint/seclusion use

June 18, 2019, Hawaii Public Radio: U.S. Schools Underreport How Often Students Are Restrained Or Secluded, Watchdog Says When students are believed to be a danger to themselves or others, they're sometimes restrained in school, or isolated in a separate room. These practices, known as restraint and seclusion, are supposed to be a last resort, and they disproportionately affect boys and students with disabilities or special needs. In the past, government officials have said public schools rarely use these behavior management methods — but now, those same officials aren't so sure. A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog, questions the quality of the data the U.S. Department of Education collects on this issue. "Our findings raise serious concerns about underreporting and misreporting of the use of seclusion and restraint," says Jackie Nowicki, a director at the GAO and author of the report. "It is therefore not possible to know the extent of the use of seclusion and restraint nationwide." The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires that school districts report how often students are restrained or secluded…. Of the school districts that serve more than 100,000 students, 10 out of 30 reported zero incidents. And of those, only one (Hawaii Department of Education) confirmed that its zeros actually represented zero incidents of restraint and seclusion. Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia was among the larger districts that reported zeros for multiple years. However, following an investigation by WAMU, district officials have publicly acknowledged errors; they are now reporting almost 1,700 incidents in the 2017-18 school year alone. According to the GAO, other large school districts — including New York City (the nation's largest school district), Philadelphia and Prince George's County, Md., — were not collecting data on seclusion and restraint, which means the fields should have been left blank. … Educators say seclusion and restraint are necessary when students pose a threat to themselves, their classmates or staff. But, they add, the reporting requirements are essential to make sure these practices are being used appropriately. "I think that the biggest thing that we need to look at is actually how we can prevent this from happening in the first place," says Kevin Rubenstein, a veteran educator in the Chicago suburbs, and a chairperson at the Council of Administrators of Special Education…. Parents have told WAMU and Oregon Public Broadcasting that repeated seclusions and restraints have taken a toll on their children. One mother in Washington state said her son — after being restrained and secluded multiple times — throws fits just passing by a school in a car. A mom in Fairfax County said her son became more violent after repeated seclusions, and began to hate school…. The GAO report calls for "immediate action" from the Department of Education, and issues recommendations for correcting the data. … Federal lawmakers who have been using federal data to inform discussions on seclusion and restraint say they are considering the prevalence of misreporting as they draft legislation. Democrats in both houses of Congress have repeatedly introduced bills that would ban the use of seclusion, limit the use of restraint and strengthen oversight. The legislation has failed multiple times as some Republican lawmakers have chosen to leave the issue up to the states….


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