Disability Rights

The Problem of Seclusion and Restraint in Ohio Schools

06.12.13

Proponents say seclusion rooms — often small and uncomfortable — are intended to provide a calm place for children with serious behavioral problems (including Autistic and developmentally disabled students) to regain composure. Instead, they have been misused, often as simple punishment, or worse, as a place for frustrated educators to lock away students for hours at a time.

According to The Office of Civil Rights Data Collection report:

  • Students with disabilities made up nearly 70% of those physically restrained in their schools
  • Hispanic students represent 42% of non-disabled students who are subject to seclusion
  • African American students represent 44% of students with disabilities who are subject to mechanical restraints

The use of seclusion and restraint by school staff is seen by many as a symptom of the overall failure to implement key requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). This federal law governs the duty of public schools, including charter schools, to identify and serve children with disabilities. Among other things, it requires:

  • that children who have a history of violent or disruptive behaviors in school receive a multi-factored evaluation (MFE) to determine if they need special education services to address these behaviors
  • that once a is child found to be eligible for special education services, the school develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child
  • that IEPs contain goals for the child’s education, special services to be provided, and a determination of the child’s least restrictive environment (LRE) so that, to the maximum extent possible, they are educated in the classroom with their non-disabled peers

In Ohio, there are strict limits on the use of seclusion and restraints in children’s residential facilities, yet the practice has remained common and unregulated in public schools.

Numerous groups have also spoken out against the use of seclusion rooms including the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC) and the Ohio Disability Rights Law and Policy Center (ODRLPC), with some calling for an immediate ban on the practice.

In 2013, The ODE created a draft policy and rules to govern the use of seclusion and restraint in Ohio Schools. In the meantime, the ACLU offered testimony to the Ohio State Board of Education, asking for a number of revisions to make the rules more specific, and apply them to charter schools as well as traditional public schools.

On April 9, 2013 the State Board of Education finally passed rule 3301-35-15, governing the use of seclusion and restraints practices in Ohio schools. This rule is an important step for the many Ohio schools that secluded and restrained children without guidelines for years and adds extra protections like parental notification and oversight when a child is secluded or restrained.

Still, the new rule will not be applied to public charter schools, leaving over 100,000 Ohio school children unprotected. The ACLU of Ohio will continue working to ensure that these children are given the same opportunities and protections as other public school students.