U.S. schools are underreporting the use of restraint and seclusion

Taking Action

(WRIC) — The findings of a watchdog have revealed that U.S. schools are underreporting the use of restraint and seclusion.

For the past few months, 8News has been digging into the use of restraint and seclusion in Virginia schools.

RELATED: Use of restraint and seclusion increases at Henrico schools

We previously reported that the (GAO) Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog arm of the federal government, was investigating the quality of the data. Now, the GAO is urging the Department of Education to take action immediately to correct underreporting.

When students, often children with disabilities, are believed to be a danger to themselves or others, they’re sometimes restrained or isolated in a separate room.

8News has have heard some horror stories here in Virginia of students being seriously hurt, dragged or bruised.

The federal watchdog studied large school districts that educate more than 100,000 students and found 70 percent reported zero incidents of restraint or seclusion. 

Yet the report states: “However, GAO’s analysis and documents from Education showed substantial evidence that nine of the 30 largest districts (those with more than 100,000 students) inaccurately reported zeros when they actually had incidents or did not have the data.”

That includes Fairfax County Public Schools where it was later revealed the school district actually had almost 1700 incidents just in the 2017-2018 school year. 

School districts must report restraint and seclusion in Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection every 2 years. The report found sometimes districts would fill in zero when in fact the data wasn’t available or being tracked. Instead of writing zero, schools should have left that line blank.

The report found failing to correct the data could provide an incomplete picture of the prevalence of restraint and seclusion. 

The report states, “Data left uncorrected could further undermine the public’s confidence in these data and limit the utility of a dataset intended to assist with federal civil rights monitoring, enforcement, and oversight.”

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