8 Investigates

'It's not a prison': Children physically restrained and isolated In Virginia schools

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) -- Children in Virginia schools are being physically restrained and isolated and it’s legal. Some parents tell 8News their children have been hurt.

The mother of Carson Luke of Chesapeake shared photos with 8News of her son’s bloody and broken hands.

They are injuries she says he suffered in the door of a seclusion room.

"There is no reason that any public school in Virginia needs to have or should use a seclusion room. It's not a prison, it's a public school,” Heather Luke told 8News.

Alex Campbell, who lives in Powhatan County and has autism, says he was scratched and bruised when he was grabbed by the neck and restrained face down on the floor at a private school.

His parents filed a complaint.

"Many times, I was not even sure what I did," Campbell said. "When I asked for help or asked if anyone was there - no one would answer.”

Another student, Gigi Daniel-Zagorites, has a disorder that hinders her ability to speak.  

A photo captured in class shows she was put in seclusion trying to peer over a cabinet barricade in Loudoun County Public Schools.

And in Virginia Beach, the mother of 6-year-old Eric Chapman was horrified to see a video of her son being restrained, dragged and isolated.

"They locked me in a room," Chapman said. 

"My son was assaulted,” added his mother Latasha Holloway.

School divisions say they use these practices to prevent kids with behavior issues from hurting themselves and others.

"We have heard of stories where children have been put in closets for extended periods of time," said Colleen Miller, the executive director of The Disability Law Center Of Virginia. She has been studying the use of restraint and seclusion in Virginia schools and representing families.

Right now, the State Department of Education is in the process of finalizing regulations that would limit the use of restraint and seclusion. The public can weigh in online here.

"The bottom line is restraint is extremely traumatizing for a child and it is not an education too," Miller said. 

As the State probes the issue, 8News wanted to know how often is it is happening in Central Virginia Schools? The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights requires schools to self-report such occurrences. 

The most recent data online shows in 2015, Richmond schools reported  41 instances of restraint and 0 instances of seclusion. Henrico noted 21 incidents of restraint and 6 incidents of seclusion.

Hanover County Public Schools says they don't seclude students and Powhatan didn't report any cases.

Miller suspects the data is incomplete, however. 

"We are fairly confident that the data is not that reliable," she said. "We know of some school districts in Virginia that have reported very low number for years. When they look at it more closely they find the numbers are much, much higher some in the thousands."

Across the board, 8News found students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted.

8News also wanted more recent data and through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we asked all the school districts for the numbers for the 2017-18 school year.

Only Chesterfield schools complied, reporting 56 incidents of seclusion and 47 incidents of restraining students.

“A top priority for Chesterfield Schools is a safe, supportive and nurturing learning environment," said CPS spokesman Shawn Smith. "Physical restraint and seclusion should only be used if the student is in danger of harm to self or others.”

Henrico told us they haven't added up the numbers yet but issued the following statement: 

“We believe that every child is valued, and school staff must ensure that children are treated with dignity, respect, and special care. 

Richmond schools responded to a request for comment to 8News, stating:

"RPS is committed to educating all students in a safe environment conducive to learning. As such, RPS limits its use of restraints and uses other legal methods to ensure the safety of students and staff."

Unfortunately, there are situations in which students demonstrate behaviors that put themselves or others at risk of serious harm. In these circumstances, teachers and administrators must apply their training to keep the student and those in the area safe, while minimizing the risk of injury to the greatest extent possible. 

In Henrico, a school system of approximately 50,000 students in more than 70 schools uses the MANDT system. This system emphasizes "that all non-physical, de-escalation strategies should be exhausted first. If it is necessary to implement a restraint, then it is conducted by an individual or team of individuals who are certified in the proper techniques in order to keep the student’s safety at the forefront of the situation."

Richmond schools told 8News it would require a security director 15 hours to search the records and a clerk 5 hours to provide us the records at a cost of more than $1,000.

"I would question if whether that means they have a really high use of seclusion and restraint or do they simply have really poor record keeping?” Miller asked. 

The Disability Law Center of Virginia argues seclusion and restraint should not be used period - unless there is an immediate risk of harm to the student or others around them. 

The public has until midnight Friday to comment on the proposed regulations.

Find 8News on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.


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