Maryland DOE to Review Use of Restraint, Seclusion in Schools
The announcement comes after the DOJ found Frederick County Public Schools disproportionately used these practices on students with disabilities and students of color.
The Maryland State Department of Education announced it will thoroughly review its policies and procedures surrounding the illegal and excessive use of restraint and seclusion.
The decision to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review comes weeks after Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice after it determined the district disproportionately practiced restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities and Black students, reports CBS Local.
“The recent findings have made it clear that MSDE and local school systems have much more work to do in order to ensure that all students – including students with disabilities and students of color – are treated fairly and equitably throughout the State, and that students are provided with an array of positive behavior interventions, strategies, and supports,” the department wrote in a news release issued Thursday.
The department also said it is developing an action plan to provide increased oversight and corrective measures to ensure system reform across the state to protect students from “harmful and ineffective practices.” State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said in all situations, restraint and seclusion should be used as a “last resort” and only in “emergency circumstances.”
“Given the potentially devastating physical and emotional impact of restraint and seclusion on students and staff, as well the disproportionate use on students with disabilities and students of color, MSDE will work with our local school systems to eliminate the illegal use of these practices and increase system capacity to provide effective, positive means of behavior management,” he said.
MSDE said it will also work with the state’s Office of the Inspector General for Education, which has designated authority to investigate claims of civil rights violations.
As part of the FCPS settlement, which was signed on Dec. 1, the school system agreed to immediately end its use of seclusion, overhaul its restraint practices, and train staff on appropriate behavioral interventions for students with disabilities, according to Frederick News-Post. FCPS also agreed to offer counseling and compensatory education services to students who were restrained or secluded between the 2017-18 and 2o20-21 school years.
The DOJ started its investigation into FCPS in Oct. 2020 and focused on school years 2017-18, 2018-19 and the first half of 2019-20. Investigators determined the school system performed 7,253 seclusions and restraints on 125 students, and 34 of those individuals were secluded or restrained more than 50 times each. The practices were even used on students as young as five.
The data shows FCPS far surpassed every other Maryland public school system in its use of seclusion and restraint during the 2017-18 and 2019-2020 school years. The DOJ found these practices were routinely used in nonemergency situations, causing students to miss weeks and sometimes months of instructional time.
The DOJ also found FCPS to be in “pervasive noncompliance” with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although students with disabilities only make up 11% of children enrolled in the school system, it was determined that every child secluded during the studied time period and all but one who was restrained was a student with disabilities.
Furthermore, the data shows Black students in the school system were far more likely to be restrained or secluded than White students. The number of restraints involving Black students during the 2017-18 school year was more than double the number of incidents involving White students. Black students make up 12% of the school system while White students make up over 50%.
“The recent investigation and settlement agreement in FCPS should serve as a compelling reminder to local superintendents and boards of education across the State that the illegal use of restraint and seclusion will not be tolerated and that parent and educator concerns should be taken seriously, fully investigated and redressed,” Choudhury continued in his release. “MSDE will protect the rights of all of our students and create meaningful and sustained change.”
A week after the settlement with the DOJ, FCPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Alban was placed on administrative leave. The decision was made after the Board of Education held a closed session over a “personnel issue.” The board did not explicitly link the superintendent’s change in status to the settlement.
Alban has been superintendent for 11 years and her contract is scheduled to expire in 2023.