Maryland use of restraint and seclusion increasing

According to 2018/19 report to the General Assembly 

According to a recent report from the Maryland State Department of Education, the use of restraint and seclusion is increasing in Maryland schools. The report, Restraint and Seclusion: Data Collection, Findings, and Recommendations 2018/19 indicated that there were 19,713 instances of restraints and 9,532 instances of seclusion reported during the 2018/19 reporting period. In the 2017/18 report, there were 18,222 instances of restraint and 8,048 instances of seclusion. Looking at these numbers we see the total number of instances of restraint and seclusion of 29,245 in the latest reporting cycle as opposed to 26,270 in the previous reporting cycle. This represents about an 11% increase in the use of restraint and seclusion in Maryland.

Let’s put this in perspective by looking at the latest national estimates from the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). According to OCR data, there were 280,728 instances of restraint or seclusion in schools across the United States in the 2013/14 school year. According to the same dataset, the State of Maryland reported 8,512 instances of restraint or seclusion. However, the latest data from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) reports a total of 29,245 instances of restraint or seclusion for the 2018/19 school year. Look at that number again, that is nearly a 350% increase from what was reported to the Office of Civil Rights just five years ago. How can this increase be explained? Has the use of restraint and seclusion increased that much in five years? The difference would likely be explained by different data reporting requirements or perhaps an acknowledgment of underreporting as has been found by the United States Government Accountability Office. However, at the end of the day, an instance of restraint or an instance of seclusion seems to be clear and measurable.

Look at that number again, that is nearly a 350% increase from what was reported to the Office of Civil Rights just five years ago.

To make matters worse in Maryland, we continue to see exceedingly high restraint and/or seclusion numbers for particular school districts including Frederick County, Calvert County, Charles County, Hartford County, Garrett County, Washington County, and Carroll County. This data raises many concerns related to oversight and accountability from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). What is the MSDE doing to provide oversight and guidance specifically to local school systems with exceedingly high rates of seclusion and/or restraint? If MSDE provided oversight to the counties with high numbers in the 2017/18 reporting cycle you would expect a decrease in the current numbers for these local school systems, that does not appear to be happening. Looking at two years of data it is hard to see the result of appropriate and reasonable oversight. We do know that Calvert County is actively working to reduce their restraint and seclusion use. The county has recently revised its policy to reduce the use of restraint and eliminate the use of seclusion in a process that involved parent input. The process in Calvert County was initiated following a parent complaint to the county’s Board of Education.

Ironically, we know that the State of Maryland has some of the stronger laws in the nation when it comes to the use of restraint and seclusion. That said we believe the law doesn’t go far enough, as we believe the State of Maryland should completely prohibit the use of seclusion. In 2019 the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) provided updated guidance related to the use of restraint and seclusion. The guidance was clear and should help local school systems, but it is not enough. The weak recommendations provided in the latest report are unlikely to stimulate positive progress in the coming year. The Maryland State Department of Education needs to do more to decrease the use of restraint and seclusion to make our schools safer for students, teachers, and staff. We would recommend that MSDE form a new Restraint and Seclusion Taskforce to include parents and advocates to look at alternatives to restraint and seclusion such as Ukeru and the Collaborative Proactive Solutions model.

Recently a series of stories regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in Illinois schools was published by The Chicago Tribune and ProPublica. The articles focused on the use of restraint and seclusion in Illinois schools, but could easily be written about Maryland schools. These articles have brought to light the frequent and inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion. The articles included many incident reports that demonstrated that restraint and seclusion were being utilized as a form of punishment often for minor behavioral issues. Federal guidelines specifically state restraint and seclusion should not be used in this manner, but there is currently no federal law protecting the civil and human rights of our children from these practices.

In Maryland, according to state law, restraint and/or seclusion should not be used unless there is a serious likelihood of imminent serious physical harm to the child or another. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in our schools. In Maryland schools, restraint and seclusion are commonly used in situations that are not warranted according to the law. We have read reports and talked to parents in Maryland who have had children restrained and/or secluded for minor behaviors such as splashing water, taking off their shoes, flipping a light switch off and on, refusing to clean up their desk and being disrespectful. Restraint and seclusion are being used in Maryland schools inappropriately, much as they have been reported in Illinois. The articles in Illinois received tremendous media attention and the Governor took emergency action to halt the use of seclusion. We believe that Governor Hogan should do the same before Maryland comes under the same scrutiny, which we believe will happen if Maryland is not proactive in addressing this issue.

Where do we go from here? I have reached out to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) on several occasions to express my concerns about the use of restraint and seclusion in Maryland schools. I have spoken at the State Board of Education meeting to express my concerns. I have written to Governor Hogan’s office to share my concerns about the lack of accountability and oversight being provided by the MSDE. I have asked to meet with the President of the State Board of Education Brigadier General Warner I. Sumpter but received no response to my repeated requests. We can and must do better for the children of Maryland. We can make our schools safer for students, teachers, and staff by reducing the use of restraint and eliminating the practice of seclusion. President Sumpter and Superintendent Salmon, I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this critical issue impacting children and families throughout the state.

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