Michelle Diament reports:
More than 200 disability organizations are urging Congress to reignite efforts to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.
In a letter sent last week to key legislators, a who’s who of disability advocacy organizations including the Autism Society, The Arc and the National Disability Rights Network said action is needed in order to ensure student safety.
“It is time for a national policy addressing restraint and seclusion in our schools for all children,” reads the letter sent to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives education committees. “America needs more than the current patchwork of state laws to ensure that every child is afforded protection.”
You can read more of her coverage on Disability Scoop.
This is an issue I’ve been actively involved in since 2005, and it’s high time Congress got off the dime and adequately protected students from the unfair, inhumane, and harmful practices that we have seen all too frequently in schools. If you are a parent of a child with a disability, I urge you to contact both your representative in the House and your senator and tell them that children continue to be harmed while they are playing unacceptable political games. Enough is enough. You can find your legislators’ contact information through http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml and can use your zip code to look up your Representative if you do not know what district you are in.
For an update on state laws on restraint and seclusion, see Jessica Butler’s report, How Safe is the Schoolhouse?, which has been updated as of July 2012.
I’ve blogged about the unnecessary and inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion a number of times, and the need for federal regulations that prohibit their inappropriate use. Now there is an important hearing coming up this Thursday in the Senate. Nirvi Shah reports:
Educators’ use of restraints, seclusion, and alternative strategies for managing disruptive student behaviors are scheduled to be the focus of a first-of-its-kind hearing Thursday before the Senate education committee.
The hearing, “Beyond Seclusion and Restraint: Creating Positive Learning Environments for All Students,” will mark the first time the issue has an airing in that chamber. Late last year, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chair of the committee, sponsored a bill that would sharply restrict or ban the use of restraints and seclusion, which have come under fire because of multiple reports of students getting injured or dying as a result of such actions. Similar legislation in the House of Representatives was passed more than two years ago and has been reintroduced, but since then, both bills have stalled.
Read more on Education Week.
I’m not sure if the hearing will be televised, but you can check C-SPAN to see. But do take a moment now and check to see if your Senator is on the committee. If s/he is, contact them to tell them that you want the Senate to pass a bill that will protect the safety and dignity of children with disabilities and that educating the educators to: (1) recognize behavioral symptoms of disabilities, (2) use functional behavioral assessments to analyze problems, and (3) provide positive behavior supports will reduce the use of aversive techniques significantly. Clicking on the link to your Senator’s name will take you to their Senate home page with information on how to contact them.
A few years ago, Congress had an opportunity to pass a bill that would restrict the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in schools. The bill was eventually watered down so much that most advocates, like myself, found it hard to actively support it, but even after its diluted version passed in the House, it never even came up for a vote in the Senate.
I’ll say that again: it never even came up for a vote in Senate, despite the fact that around the country, children’s dignity and civil liberties are being violated and children are being physically and emotionally harmed.
What does that say about the Senate?
TASH recently released a report, The Cost of Waiting that cites examples of what has gone in the last two years that might have been avoided if Congress had acted. It doesn’t seem to be available for download, but you can read the report online:
Representative Miller, who sponsored the original bill, reintroduced the bill last year as H.R. 1381: Keeping All Students Safe Act. You can read his blog entry about the bill on his web site. The full text of the bill can be found here.
Despite the fact that the bill has 42 co-sponsors, GovTrack rates its chances of being enacted as only 2%. If you don’t like the odds, contact your Representative (if he or she is not already a co-sponsor) and Senator and tell them that you want a straight-up vote on the bill because children are being harmed. You can see if your Representative is a co-sponsor here.
Office for Civil Rights Data Suggests Racial and Disability Status Disparities in Discipline, Restraint, and Seclusion
The Office for Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) aggregates data nationally. They recently released a report, which I’ve uploaded here. The report contains some statistics that come as no surprise to advocates but are still very disturbing. I’ve pulled out a few of the figures in this post.
Let’s start with racial disparities in discipline. As the following figure illustrates, African-American students represent 18% of students in the CRDC sample, but 35% of students suspended once, 46% of those suspended more than once, and 39% of students expelled.
In contrast to African-American students, the rates of discipline in Hispanic students appears to be comparable to their rates in the general sample. Asian-Pacific students have lower rates of discipline compared to their rates in the general sample. White students make up 51% of the general sample, but only 39% of those being expelled.
So how do we explain these data? And what do we do with them?
The data on disability and discipline are also of concern. CRDC’s data show that students with disabilities who are classified under I.D.E.A. are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions than their non-disabled peers.
Why the significant discrepancy? If the students’ disabilities are related to behavioral problems, those problems should be addressed in behavior intervention plans with positive supports. Why are we throwing children out of school at higher rates if they have disabilities? Could it be that school personnel are looking to get a break from challenging students and so suspend them more readily? Or is it the case that school personnel generally lack adequate training and skills to manage the behavioral features of some disabilities and don’t know what else to do?
Students with disabilities are also significantly more likely to be physically restrained than their non-disabled peers. Nearly 70% of restrained students have disabilities even though they comprise only 12% of the general sample.
When we look at the seclusion data for students with disabilities, it appears that Hispanic students with disabilities are at disproportionate risk of being put into seclusion rooms:
Disappointingly, the data collection does not provide any analysis of seclusion data on the basis of disability vs. no disability. Since seclusion is only supposed to be use for emergency situations in which there is an imminent risk of injury to the student or others, such data might shed some light on how often these rooms are actually being used – or overused.
Keep in mind that these patterns may not accurately reflect the state of discipline your school district. The report provides a comparison chart for some major urban school districts but they also note that their methodology in data collection may limit interpretations:
The CRDC has generally been collected biennially from school districts in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The CRDC for SY 2009-10 was collected in two parts. Part 1 is beginning-of-year “snapshot” data and Part 2 is cumulative and end-of-year data. The 2009-10 CRDC contains information on about 7,000 school districts and over 72,000 schools in those districts. It is important to note that the CRDC does not include data from all school and districts in the nation, although it does include data from all districts with greater than 3,000 students and 85% of all students. The conclusions in this report therefore apply only to these districts and schools sampled.
In other words, we need to be caution in drawing any conclusions from the data. But it’s always the case that we need to be cautious in drawing conclusions and that should not stop us from pointing to data that suggests discriminatory handling and asking, “What do we need to do better?”
Here’s a media report from Associated Press on the report and reactions to it.
Michelle Diament writes on Disability Scoop that the U.S. Department of Education will offering guidance to school districts on restraint seclusion, with the guidance being disseminated before the start of the next school year:
The U.S. Department Of Education plans to offer school districts guidance on restraint and seclusion before the next school year begins, officials said Thursday, even as Congressional efforts on the issue continue to appear stalled.
Alexa Posny, the Education Department’s top special education official, told a federal autism advisory committee Thursday morning that her agency will issue guidance to schools this fall around the same time it releases the first ever national data on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.
Read more on Disability Scoop.
For those who might think this is good news, it’s not. “Guidance” has no force of law and is not enforceable. Guidance will not prohibit what needs to be prohibited, it will not impose mandatory notifications, transparency, and accountability, and it is not a substitute for a strong federal law.