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NPR investigates restraint/seclusion use in schools; teachers say it's self-defense

June 5, 2019, NPR: Desperation And Broken Trust When Schools Restrain Students Or Lock Them In Rooms Every time Jennifer Tidd's son was secluded or restrained at school, she received a letter from his teachers. Her son has autism and behavioral issues, and over three years — from 2013 to 2016 — Tidd got 437 of those letters. … "What kind of parent lets this happen to their child? ... I just trusted the school. I thought that it would work — we were at our wits' end with the behaviors and stuff. But it actually just made it worse." Restraint and seclusion are most often used on students with disabilities or special needs — children like Tidd's son. Those terms can mean anything from holding or using restraints on students to isolating them in a separate room or space. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights requires that school districts report every time a student is restrained or secluded. And while tens of thousands of cases are reported, many suspect those numbers fall short. That's what happened in Tidd's district, Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves more than 187,000 students. For years, the district told the government that it never secluded or restrained pupils. But an investigation by WAMU found hundreds of cases recorded in internal documents and letters that schools sent to parents. Fairfax isn't the only district reporting suspiciously low numbers. According to an Education Week analysis of data from the 2013-14 school year, nearly 80% of districts reported that they never secluded or restrained special education students. That number includes New York City, the nation's largest school district. The Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, is conducting an investigation into the quality of the data that school districts are reporting. Jackie Nowicki, a director at the GAO, says media accounts and testimony from lawmakers have raised "concerns that seclusion and restraint [have] continued to be chronically underreported."… Restraint and seclusion are controversial practices in public schools. According to federal guidance, they're supposed to be used as a last resort, when students become a danger to themselves or others. It is clear that as a system we have fallen short in this area. … U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a group of reporters recently that the department is reviewing some districts that reported questionable numbers. … In response to the WAMU investigation, Fairfax County is now reporting almost 1,700 cases of seclusion and restraint for the 2017-18 school year. And Fairfax officials say they plan to submit corrected data for the 2015-16 school year. "It is clear that as a system we have fallen short in this area," said Fairfax County Superintendent Scott Brabrand at a school board meeting in April. He pledged to work to "heal the hurt and systematically address these concerns around restraint and seclusion." "For a nonverbal person, that's absolute desperation" Tidd still thinks about all the time her son spent in the district's seclusion rooms. Many are built like Russian nesting dolls — rooms within rooms. The innermost room is reserved for students with more egregious behavior issues. That room is concrete and about the size of a closet. Inside, there are no chairs to sit on and the only window is on the door. Tidd says the repeated seclusions traumatized her son, causing him to hate school and making him more violent and distrusting of authority figures. "He would poop and pee himself to get out of the seclusion room — he was so desperate to get out," she says. "This is a child who was completely potty trained since he was 5. ... That to me, for a nonverbal person, that's absolute desperation."… An investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting found several parents in Vancouver Public Schools — a 24,000-student district just north of Portland — who say school officials rarely notified them when their children had been restrained. … Meanwhile, incidents of restraint and seclusion are on the rise in Vancouver. The most recent district numbers show an increase of more than 50 percent, from 1,641 incidents in the 2016-17 school year to more than 2,500 a year later. The district says that this increase could have been caused by a number of things, including program changes or changes in the student population. "We have been hit and kicked and bit and scratched" Many educators say they don't want to restrain students, but sometimes it's necessary to keep the student, teachers and other kids safe. And at times, restraints can help. …. We have been hit and kicked and bit and scratched. … Kathy Forbes worked for years as an education assistant for students with disabilities in the small coastal city of Tillamook, Ore., about an hour and a half from Vancouver. "We have been hit and kicked and bit and scratched," Forbes says. "Our hair has been pulled. There's been people who have been kicked in the head. ... We've had people with broken bones."…


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