Commentary

02.26.16

Disability Rights Ohio calls for Enforcement of Ohio Department of Education Rule on Restraint and Seclusion

By

Chair in dark room

Last year thousands of Ohio students were restrained or secluded in school, placing them at risk of injury and trauma. This happened despite a rule that was put in place specifically to stop this practice.

In 2013, upon the urging of Disability Rights Ohio, the ACLU of Ohio, and other advocates, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) established a rule limiting the use of restraint and seclusion in Ohio schools to situations where there is an imminent risk of physical harm. Disability Rights Ohio and other advocates requested this change after handling multiple incidents of students who had been injured, traumatized or denied an education due to restraint and seclusion practices in school. Disability Rights Ohio continues to push the Ohio Department of Education to appropriately enforce the rule.

Seclusion and restraint are disproportionately used on students with disabilities and students of color.

  • Children with disabilities account for 14% of the total school population, but account for 80% of all restraints.
  • Nationwide, 19% of all students with disabilities are African Americans, yet 36% of students with disabilities who have been subject to restraint are African American.

There are alternatives to restraint and seclusion. The rule also requires implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, a validated approach to reduce or eliminate any need for restraint or seclusion. However, many school districts lack the training and resources to implement this approach.

According to a Disability Rights Ohio investigation, there is no proactive monitoring of schools for compliance with the regulations. While school districts are required to report data to ODE, and ODE states that it will be analyzing this data – there is no system in place to ensure that the data reported are accurate, or to compel participation when no data are submitted.

Disability Rights Ohio recently called upon ODE to improve enforcement of the rule and stop the continued use of harmful practices. According to a Disability Rights Ohio investigation, there is no proactive monitoring of schools for compliance with the regulations. While school districts are required to report data to the ODE, and the ODE states that it will be analyzing this data – there is no system in place to ensure that the data reported are accurate, or to compel participation when no data are submitted.

Multiple parents have contacted Disability Rights Ohio when they have been left without options. When a troubling incident occurs, parents can file a complaint with school administration—but if they are not satisfied with the resolution parents have no ability to appeal or alert the state to non-compliance with the rule.

Additionally, any number of agencies, from police to children’s services, may become involved, if an incident occurs. Each agency has its own standards for intervention, and there is no clear guidance on who should intervene or how agencies should work together to ensure that the rule is being enforced and students are protected. Often, no one investigates, and the student may continue to experience restraint or seclusion at school.

Read the full report from Disability Rights Ohio.

Disability Rights Ohio recommends that the ODE take action and ensure enforcement of the rule. The department needs to develop proactive monitoring and reporting systems, improve cross-agency collaboration on investigations, and ensure that school districts have adequate resources to replace restraint and seclusion practices with evidence-based positive alternatives.

Ending inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in Ohio’s schools requires more than simply putting a policy in place – it involves a change in culture at every level of the education system. The current culture puts too many Ohio students at risk of injury, death, or trauma.

Danielle Gray is a senior policy analyst for Disability Rights Ohio.

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