ProPublica reports extensive violence against students with disabilities

Photo of a girl in a chair alone in a classroom
Seclusion & Restraint in school

Restraint and seclusion techniques in public schools against students with disabilities are likely being performed far more than previously realized, according to an extensive ProPublica investigation released June 19. “Restraining and secluding students for any reason remains perfectly legal under federal law. And despite a near-consensus that the tactics should be used rarely, new data suggests some schools still routinely rely on them to control children,” the report states. “The practices—which have included pinning uncooperative children facedown on the floor, locking them in dark closets and tying them up with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape—were used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year.”

The figure comes from data collected by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. As reported by ProPublica, underreporting of these techniques is rampant.

Nearly two-thirds of schools reported that they did not use these techniques at all during the 2012 school year, while the schools that did reported doing so an average of 18 times that year.

Nearly three-quarters of the students involved have physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities. About 7,600 of these reports included mechanical restraints, such as straps and handcuffs.

“We have hundreds of examples of kids who are being restrained and secluded for behaviors that do not rise to the level of causing harm to themselves or others,” Cindy Smith, policy counsel at the National Disability Rights Network, told ProPublica.

Disability advocates have long campaigned for the passage of the Keeping All Students Safe Act, a bill that would ban restraint and seclusion practices in all but emergency situations.

In 2012, the DOE released guidelines to schools, urging limitations on these techniques.

“It’s hard to believe this kind of treatment is going on in America,” parent and advocate Phyllis Musumeci told ProPublica. A decade ago, her son who has autism was restrained 89 times over 14 months at his school in Florida. “It’s a disgrace.”

The full story can be read here.

Disability Rights Washington, produces Galaxy and is a member of the National Disability Rights Network.