Ed Department Urged To Ban Seclusion In Schools

January 17, 2020
In The News

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos should ban seclusion and prohibit certain restraint techniques in the nation’s schools, a dozen lawmakers say.

In a letter to DeVos this week, two senators and 10 members of Congress are calling for the Department of Education to update its 2016 guidance on restraint and seclusion, which data indicate are most frequently used on students with disabilities.

The existing guidance advised against using restraint or seclusion for disciplinary purposes and said that restraint should only be employed in circumstances where there is an imminent threat of physical harm. Now, the lawmakers are pressing DeVos to go farther.

“We respectfully urge you to update the Department of Education’s 2016 guidance to ban seclusion, ban restraints that restrict breathing and are life-threatening, and promote evidence-based alternatives to reduce the use of physical restraint,” states the letter from Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and nine other Democrats, most representing Illinois.

The lawmakers were spurred to action after a recent Chicago Tribune and ProPublica investigation found rampant misuse of both restraint and seclusion across Illinois.

The report detailed cases where children have been locked in rooms alone for hours as punishment and examples of students who were restrained — some by methods that can restrict breathing — in circumstances where there was no threat of physical danger.

As a result of the investigation, the Illinois State Board of Education moved to become the fifth state to ban seclusion in schools, but the lawmakers say federal action is needed to ensure the safety of children across the country.

“There are tens of millions of American children still at risk of experiencing this detrimental practice,” the lawmakers wrote to DeVos. “The use of seclusion and dangerous restraints is putting the psychological well-being and lives of children at risk every day and must be addressed at the federal level immediately.”

The Education Department said that DeVos received the letter, but the agency did not address questions about whether it is considering updating its restraint and seclusion guidance.

Instead, Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, highlighted that the agency has “undertaken a robust initiative to address how schools are using restraint and seclusion” under DeVos’ leadership.

“The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has launched compliance reviews at school districts around the country to examine the effect of the use of restraint and seclusion on a school’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities,” Morabito said. “The Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services continue to provide technical assistance, including the recent release of a webinar that makes technical assistance accessible to all school staff, teachers, stakeholders, parents and students.”

In 2010, the House of Representatives passed legislation to impose first-ever federal oversight on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, but the measure died in the Senate. The issue has failed to gain traction in Congress since then leaving a patchwork of rules in place across the country.

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