Rampant use of restraints and seclusion at Virginia private schools

Taking Action

(WRIC) — New data shared with 8News showed the use of restraints and seclusion runs rampant at private schools in Virginia. 

8News has been reporting on concerns about isolating and restraining children in our public schools as the State finalizes regulations. Now, 8News has learned students with disabilities have been secluded or restrained 28,458 times in the past two years.

Powhatan parent Sean Campbell made a request the data and shared it with 8News.  His son Alex, who has autism, has been both restrained and secluded in specialized private schools. “I am talking about a converted storage closet where the walls were painted black with a concrete floor and a wire mesh window where he spent hours in that room for doing silly things like ripping paper or banging on a wall,” said Campbell. 

Campbell still gets emotional when he talks about his son’s experience. He’s shared with 8News images showing scaring and bruising after Alex was grabbed by the neck and held face down at a different private school.  

“He was injured in a restraint bed, it sent him to the hospital,” Campbell explained.

Taxpayer money often covers the cost of placing special needs students in private specialized schools. Of those more than 28,000 instances of students with disabilities restrained or secluded stats showing the use of restraint is on the rise.

There were nearly 13,000 reports of restraint during the 2017-2018 school year, more than double the number reported the year before.  While upsetting, the data provides some validation for the Campbells.

“When my son and I first went to legislators and we expressed our concern about it, it was painted as an isolated incident. Now that we have this data has come in, we can say yes, we were right,” said Campbell.

More recently more parents across Virginia have started sharing with 8News and our sister stations images and stories of their children hurt while isolated or restrained. 8News has seen images of students with bloody and broken hands or barricaded with cabinets.  

A mother in Virginia shared a video of her son being dragged and secluded in school. She felt he was assaulted. Private school staff told 8News sometimes children with severe autism or mental disorders can be dangerous to themselves or others –leaving them no other choice but to use these tactics.

In 2015, the Virginia Board Of Education (VDOE) approved new regulations for private schools which states physical restraint or seclusion is allowed only in an emergency situation.

Yet Campbell says the number of incidents begs the question, “How are they enforcing those guidelines?”

It appears to be a valid question. Under the guidelines, schools are supposed to be “collect and annually report” the data to the Virginia Department of Education. When Campbell initially requested the information he says, “The response I received was, we don’t have it.”

Charles Pyle, Director of Media Relations for Virginia’s Department of Education told 8News, “The department’s intent was to develop a uniform reporting procedure for both private schools for students with disabilities and public schools once the rule-making process for public schools was complete.”

However, the State is still in the process of finalizing those regulations for public schools.

Given the delays with that Pyle told 8News, “Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane directed VDOE staff to contact the private schools for data on the use of seclusion and restraint during 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. This information was collected in April and provided to Mr. Campbell earlier this week.”

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