The Office of Civil Rights is not doing enough…

To stop discrimination in the case of restraint and seclusion

Restraint and seclusion, while intended as crisis management interventions, are commonly misused in classrooms for in situations that do not involve the risk of imminent serious physical harm. Not only are these practices ineffective, but they can also lead to significant trauma, injury, and even death. There are better ways to work with all children and educate them in our schools. This is a serious issue, a civil rights issue, and human rights issues. We can and must do better.

Advocacy groups such as ours, we rely on data collection and reporting from state and federal agencies. One of the primary sources of information we use for tracking is the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) data collection. To be useful and actionable data must be accurate, relevant, and timely. Unfortunately, the data from the Office of Civil Rights is neither accurate nor timely. A 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) review found that data the Department of Education (OCR) uses in its enforcement of civil rights laws does not accurately or completely reflect all incidents of restraint and seclusion of public school students. While the data available through OCR’s website was recently updated as of October 1st, 2020 before that the most recent data was from the 2015-16 school year. The process by which OCR reviews and quality assures the data is extremely slow-moving and should be considered unacceptable.   

The latest data demonstrates that there is a clear violation of the civil rights of disabled, Black, and Brown children. Data from the report includes the following findings:

  • 101,990 Children restrained or secluded
  • 80% of physical restraints happen to children with disabilities
  • 77% of seclusions happen to children with disabilities
  • Black and Brown children are disproportionately impacted
The latest OCR report.

As stated, the mission of OCR is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.

However, we believe that the data demonstrates a clear violation of the civil rights of children with disabilities and a lack of enforcement. In our time of operating as an organization, we’ve yet to see OCR respond proactively and effectively to this concerning data through statement, intervention, investigation, or guidance meant to reduce the harmful practices of restraint and seclusion. Nor have we seen OCR appropriately address the disproportionate impact on our nation’s most vulnerable children. 

With the current political climate in mind, and such disparity in social justice being seen, it seems timely address this issue. Practices like restraint, seclusion, suspension, expulsion, and corporal punishment that disproportionately impact disabled, Black, and Brown children fuel the school to prison pipeline.   

One might wonder how many times George Floyd was restrained in school with choke holds until this restraint finally killed him as an adult. In May of this year, 16-year old Cornelius Frederick was put into a restraint hold after he threw a sandwich, this restraint led to his death. We wonder if the OCR provided vigorous enforcement of civil rights in schools, how many lives could be saved from trauma, injury, and death?

To achieve our mission, we need to partner with legislators who are willing to advocate for children with disabilities and minorities. We seek to develop opportunities for new policies that can guide our nation to a public education system that establishes and implements inclusive and individualized education for students with disabilities. We support legislation that aims to reduce and eliminate restraint and seclusion, which would foster a safer, healthier, and happier environment for students, teachers, and staff. There are established alternatives to restraint and seclusion with high measures of efficacy. School systems only need guidance to prioritize the prevention of these incidents through the utilization of established alternatives.  

Federal statutes such as IDEA establish policies that protect the rights of students with disabilities, however, there is no current federal statute specifically aimed at reducing and eliminating the use of restraint and seclusion. OCR needs to be held accountable and suggest the following to be mandated for the Office of Civil Rights: 

  • Data needs to be reviewed, quality-assured, and made available to legislators and the general public within 6 months of completed data collection.
  • Data should be proactively analyzed by OCR and local education agencies with the highest use (top 25%) of restraint and seclusion should be investigated.
  • When local education agencies report zero instances of restraint and/or seclusion they should be contacted to certify results within 60 days.  
  • Annual guidance should be issued to local education agencies to provide strategies to reduce and eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion. 
  • Data should be collected for nonpublic schools for students placed through their local educational agency.

Perhaps it is time for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review to be conducted to look at the issue of restraint and seclusion and the role of the Office of Civil Rights.   

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