“I Urge You to Ensure That Every Student in Every School is Safe and Protected”

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In a July 31 letter, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described his reaction to testimony before Congress on the use of restraints and seclusion in public schools.

He advised school officials to reform their seclusion and restraint procedures “to ensure that every student in every school is safe and protected”  before the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.

“On May 19, the Education and Labor Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing to examine the abusive and potentially deadly misapplication of seclusion and restraint techniques in schools. . . . [and] testimony from the Government Accountability Office on “Seclusions and Restraints:  Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers.”  The testimony is available on the Internet at the following Web address: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09719t.pdf. (Accessible text format)

“I was deeply troubled by the testimony . . . As education leaders, our first responsibility should be to make sure that schools foster learning in a safe environment for all of our children and teachers.  Therefore, I am encouraging each State to review its current policies and guidelines regarding the use of restraints and seclusion in schools to ensure every student is safe and protected, and if appropriate, develop or revise its policies and guidelines …”

Secretary Duncan  recommended that states use stimulus money to implement “a school-wide system of PBIS … with information and help from the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports . . . ”

“I urge each of you to develop or review and, if appropriate, revise your State policies and guidelines to ensure that every student in every school under your jurisdiction is safe and protected from being unnecessarily or inappropriately restrained or secluded.

“I also urge you to publicize these policies and guidelines so that administrators, teachers, and parents understand and consent to the limited circumstances under which these techniques may be used; ensure that parents are notified when these interventions do occur; and provide the resources needed to successfully implement the policies and hold school districts accountable for adhering to the guidelines.

“I encourage you to have your revised policies and guidance in place prior to the start of the 2009-2010 school year to help ensure that no child is subjected to the abusive or potentially deadly use of seclusion or restraint in a school.

“I have asked Fran Walter of our Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with staff from our regional Comprehensive Centers to contact your office by August 15, to discuss the status of your State’s efforts with regard to limiting the use of seclusion and restraint to protect our students.” Full text of  letter.
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We are relieved that Secretary Duncan is taking a  stand on this issue. But the devil is in the details.

The GAO stressed that there are no federal standards for restraints and seclusion in public schools. State laws and regulations vary. Nearly half of the states  have no regulations about seclusion and restraints in schools. If federal standards are enacted, it should be easier to require states to enact similar standards.

* Nineteen states have NO laws or regulations about the use of seclusion or restraints in schools.
[Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming]

* Seven states place some restrictions on restraints, but do not regulate seclusion. [Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia]

* Nineteen states require parents to be notified after restraints have been used.

* Four states collect and report information from school districts about their use of restraints and seclusion. [Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Rhode Island]

* Two states require annual reporting on the use of restraints.[California and Connecticut]

We need to educate the public about the use of restraints and seclusion in public schools, and the fact that children with disabilities are dying as a result.  We also need to require our State Departments of Education to enact strong policies and procedures on restraints and seclusion until strong regulations can be implemented.

Hat Tip to the Special Education Blog by Christina Samuels and the Justice For All Blog!

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Attention SC Parents – This story broke my heart, I hurt for these families and these children. While there are some great educators out there, there are others who need to find a new profession. IT IS HAPPENING IN SC, WE CAN EITHER TURN A BLIND EYE, or we can take action. Exactly what kind of training are our paraprofessionals receiving in SC, if any? Are they doing background checks in these people?

A Must Read – Lead Special Ed Teacher, Assistant Principal, Teacher’s Aid Arrested for Abuse and Failure to Report Abuse-Dorchester County, Summerville, SC
http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/nov/12/educators-arrested-after-abuse-allegations/

Christine

I totally agree with David!! There has never been any accountability for school systems who systemically violate special education laws!! If our President, Congress, and Arne Duncan are really serious towards making sure that every student in every school is safe and protected, then make it a criminal offense for school systems and their staff to continue violating Federal and State special education laws – and have the US Department of Justice prosecute them to the fullest extent!! And, create regulations under IDEA that would force school systems who violate special education laws throughout a child’s education to pay for the educational, emotional, and psychological damages they themselves caused by violating the Federal special education laws!! Collecting over $14 million each school year while ignoring the laws is not acceptable!

David1

Pam,

It is encouraging to see the progress that is being made in public awareness.

Lack of real enforcement of IDEA and ADA laws has left some school District staff thinking that they are immune from any laws or penalty.

I can speak for my experience with public school Administrators and their attorneys over the past few years. In any other area of law or business, they would have been prosecuted criminally, offering more protection to my son than our public schools are required to offer.

I hope that swift action will send a message that schools can not choose which laws they will comply with.

If school district staff has consequences for harming a child physically or by denial of a FAPE, kids will then have a right to a FREE and APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION.

Pam Wright

I think Arne Duncan is serious about this. I also think State Depts of Ed can enact policies but there needs to be federal and state regulations about restraints and seclusion in schools. If there are statutory and/or regulatory protections, it’s easier to enforce and punish offenders.

Two weeks ago, the 4th Circuit held that a teacher & an aide who restrained a child in a wheelchair for hours and verbally abused the child are not entitled to immunity. The decision was written by Judge Gregory, former counsel for Richmond City Schools. To my knowledge, Judge Gregory has never ruled in a child’s favor before, regardless of the legal issue. To me, this ruling suggests that public attitudes are changing as people hear about these stories.

David1

While I agree that policies need to be adopted ASAP, there is no use in creating policies, ragulations and laws until a law enforecment agency is going to enforce them.

In 2004, I reported to the Director of Special Services that an untrained shadow had assaulted my child. There were regulations in place then that required this person to be a mandated reporter.

To Date, the district has not asked law enforcment to investigate to ensure that the first year teacher-football coach is not a threat to other students. Of course, they will cover future incidences up as they come along.

Enforcement of IDEA and school operations needs to be moved to the Department of Justice ASAP.
Stop covering for kids being injured by enforcing current laws!