COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio schools have gaps in the way they enforce a rule limiting the seclusion and restraint of students whose behavior affects order in schools, a disability rights group said in a report released Monday.
The report from Disability Rights Ohio concluded that the state’s Department of Education needs to better monitor the compliance of such policies, create a uniform way to notify parents of incidents, and develop a more robust system for reporting and investigating cases of restraint and seclusion that violate the policies.
“Ending inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in Ohio’s schools requires more than simply putting a policy in place – it involves a change in culture at every level of the education system,” the report says.
Ohio passed a rule in 2013 restricting schools’ use of seclusion rooms or physical restraint as punishment for children or for staff convenience. Seclusion rooms are often small, closet-like spaces with doors.
Under the rule, seclusion and restraint should only be used when a child poses an imminent physical threat.
Schools also are required to report incidents of seclusion and restraint to the state’s education department. But the department lacks the authority under the law to force districts to provide the information, and schools are not sanctioned if they don’t.
Officials say the goal is to reduce the use of seclusion and encourage positive behavioral reinforcements.
“We continue to reach out to districts to help them understand their reporting requirement and the resources available to them to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion,” said Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for the state’s education department.
Norris said the department has investigatory and enforcement authority over incidents involving special education students. She said the department has reviewed complaints when those students are secluded or restrained. Complaints involving other students can go directly to children services or file a police report.
Norris said the department was open to further discussions about improving the rule.
Kristin Hildebrant, senior attorney for Disability Rights Ohio, said the group’s report is based on complaints from families and the organization’s experience with incident investigations, along with its own monitoring of schools.
For instance, a parent contacted the disability rights organization in December 2014 after seeing that the seclusion room at her child’s school had no door handle, locked automatically and could only be opened by staff swiping a key card. The school acknowledged it was out of compliance with the rule and had no plans to bring itself into compliance.
“Until this parent’s child or another child is seriously injured or is denied a free and appropriate public education, there is no mechanism in place to ensure that this school will ever come into compliance with the new rule,” the report said.
The group said it found:
— No plan for the education department to follow up on reports of restraint and seclusion to determine if such methods were used appropriately. Though the education department says it would contact a district where data shows an unusual number of complaints.
— No procedure for the state education officials to actively monitor districts’ compliance with the policies and no way to know which schools are in compliance because the Department of Education does not audit the data that school administrations report. The department says it’s provided a model prevention and reporting policy for schools to adopt and monitor.
— While the rule requires that school districts provide notice to parents when a student is restrained or secluded, Disability Rights Ohio have heard from parents who’ve not been notified of such occurrences.
— Parents can file a complaint with the school administration regarding use of restraint or seclusion, but it’s up to the school to respond and there’s no clear way for parents of non-special education students to file an appeal with the education department.
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU