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The Special Ed Advocate

Did a School District Restrain and/or Isolate Young Children with Disabilities?
What Did Investigators Find?
What Happened Next?

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In October 2020, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division opened an investigation into the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against children with disabilities in Frederick County Public Schools (MD).

lawyers with briefcases and pens around and over a courthouse

What Did the Investigators Find?

On December 1, 2021, the Justice Department sent a letter to Frederick County Public Schools that described their findings.

The investigation revealed thousands of incidents of seclusion and restraint against children with disabilities, some as young as five, in two and a half school years.

"The District performed 7,253 seclusions and restraints on 125 students. Although students with disabilities make up approximately 11% of students enrolled in the District, every single student the District secluded was a student with disabilities, as were 99% -- all but one -- of the students the District restrained."

"The District restrained 34 students with disabilities more than 50 times."

The investigators determined that the District routinely used seclusion and restraints in ordinary, non-emergency situations.

"Despite state law and the District's own policy, the District did not limit its use of seclusion and restraint to 'emergency situations' in which seclusion or restraint were 'necessary to protect a student or other person from imminent, serious, physical harm.'"

The investigators found that "the District's use of seclusion and restraints escalated the children's behaviors and heightened their distress." Some children tried to harm themselves and showed other signs of trauma.

"The District did not stop individual seclusion incidents despite students demonstrating that they were in crisis and in need of support."

What Happened Next?

In October 2021, the District approached the Justice Department and expressed interest in voluntarily entering into a settlement agreement to address concerns about the District's use of seclusion and restraint on students with disabilities.

On November 30, 2021, the District and the Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement.

Under the settlement with the Department of Justice, Frederick County school officials agreed to take corrective actions, including but not limited to:

  • prohibiting the use of seclusion;
  • reporting all instances of restraints and evaluating whether they were justified;
  • designating trained staff to collect and analyze restraint data and create appropriate behavior intervention plans;
  • offering counseling and compensatory education services to children with disabilities who were subjected to the district's discriminatory practices.

Read the full text of the Settlement Agreement in U.S. v. Frederick County Public School District.

News Release: In Restraint and Seclusion Case, Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Maryland School District to Protect Students with Disabilities from Abuse.

Do You Know a Child Who Has Been Forcibly Restrained at School? What Can You Do?

File a Complaint with the Justice Department

The Civil Rights Division enforces federal laws that protect you from discrimination based on your race, color, national origin, disability status, sex, religion, familial status, or loss of other constitutional rights. If you believe a child's civil rights or your civil rights have been violated, you can submit a report to the Civil Rights Division by using this online form.

Understanding Your Rights

ProPublica is investigating the use of restraint in schools

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism to shine a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust.

ProPublica is interested in hearing from parents, educators and others who know children who have been restrained or inappropriately disciplined in a school setting. To learn more, read Do You Know a Child Who's Been Forcibly Restrained in School?

A School That Followed a New Path

We wanted to end this article on a positive note by sharing the story of a school that stopped using restraint and seclusion and how that worked out for the school and their students.

How One Virginia School Stopped Relying on Restraining and Isolating Students -- and What Others Can Learn From It.

Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy Training Programs Return

We are happy to report that Wrightslaw Training Programs are baaack!

March 11-12, 2022: Charleston, WV - Special Education Law and Advocacy Training - Two-Day Bootcamp sponsored by Community Autism Resources & Education Systems (CARES). Speakers: Pete and Pam Wright.

March 17, 2022: Savannah, GA - Special Education Law and Advocacy Training sponsored by A. Kelly Neal, Esq. and Georgia Legal Services Program. Speaker: Pete Wright.

March 25-26, 2022: Red Bluff, CA - From Emotions to Advocacy Training sponsored by Tehama County SELPA. Speaker: Pat Howey.

March 31, 2022: Nashua, NH - Special Education Law and Advocacy Training sponsored by the Parent Information Center of NH. Speaker: Pete Wright.

April 14, 2022: Burlington, VT - Special Education Law and Advocacy Training, sponsored by Vermont Family Network. Speaker: Pete Wright.

June 9, 2022: Tifton, GA - Special Education Law and Advocacy Training sponsored by The Conner Group. Speaker: Pete Wright.

When is Wrightslaw Coming to Your City? Get the answer here.

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