Use of restraint and seclusion increases at Henrico schools

Taking Action

The images of children being hurt and dragged are not from Henrico County Public Schools

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — New numbers shared with 8News show the use of restraint and seclusion in Henrico Public Schools has increased. 8News has been reporting on the highly controversial issues for months.

The latest data shows Henrico physically or mechanically restrained students 37 times last year during 2017-2018. That’s up from 21 incidents reported in 2015. The most recent numbers show students were isolated or put in seclusion rooms eight times during the 2017-2018 school year. That’s up from six incidents in 2015.

The data is information that schools are required to report to the U.S. Department of Education. In the graph, IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. 

Mechanical restraint41
Physical restraint 1319
Seclusion 44

Generally, the use of restraint or seclusion disproportionately impacts student with disabilities. Schools tell us this is usually a last resort when a student or staff member– is at risk of serious harm.

However, we’ve spoken with parents with children in other school districts, not Henrico, who say their kids have been hurt – sometimes dragged, cut or grabbed by the neck and locked up for trivial matter. Sean Campbell described to 8News how his son was secluded in a specialized private school. He said, “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.”

Henrico schools told 8News they emphasize non-physical de-escalation strategies first. If restraint has to be used it is conducted by someone who is trained, keeping the student’s safety at the forefront.

Meanwhile, there is a concern that the use of seclusion and restraint is being under-reported. 8News has learned the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal watchdog, is conducting an investigation into the quality of the data.  We are told GAO has two projects underway.

The first includes direction for the GAO to conduct a further study on data reported to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on the use of seclusion and restraints for all students at the school and district level on efforts to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint practices. GAO has been encouraged to evaluate recommendations for improving data collection at any school, including any special education or alternative school, that serves students, ages 3-21.

The second study is to examine 1) what is known about the prevalence of districts misreporting incidents of seclusion and restraint and 2) actions the Department of Education has taken to ensure that the restraint and seclusion data are accurate.  

An update is expected next week.

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