It’s time for accountability in Frederick County Public Schools

Frederick County Public Schools was recently investigated by the Department of Justice for violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by unlawfully restraining and secluding disabled students. There were thousands of instances of restraint and seclusion used in the district that violated the civil rights of disabled students.

A settlement agreement was announced on December 1st by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice released a press release the same day to announce that the Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Maryland School District to Protect Students with Disabilities. On Friday, December 17th Frederick County Public Schools released a statement to parents in the community titled Communication to Families regarding Restraint and Seclusion Practice.

We encourage readers to read both of these statements and compare and contrast the messaging. The Department of Justice presented factual statements, which included relevant data, and strongly stated condemnation of the school district’s practices. What do you think about the statement released by Frederick County Public Schools? Do you think FCPS is taking accountability and ownership of the issue, and the harm that was done to children? Do you think the statement provided a clear and accurate description of the investigation?

Take a look at these excerpts from both statements and decide what you think.

Department of Justice: “The department’s investigation found that the school district unnecessarily and repeatedly secluded and restrained students as young as five years old in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the settlement, Frederick County will end the use of seclusion, overhaul its restraint practices, and train staff on use of appropriate behavioral interventions for students with disabilities.”

Frederick County Public Schools: “FCPS cooperated with an investigation led by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding restraint and seclusion practices of students with disabilities. After several months, FCPS collaborated with the DOJ on a settlement. We would like to share details on how we will move forward. The Department of Justice’s efforts with FCPS focused primarily on its specialized programs that support students with disabilities. A central focal point of these programs is to support the social and emotional needs of students who require more intense specialized instruction and support.”

Department of Justice: “The investigation, opened in October 2020, revealed thousands of incidents of seclusion and restraint in just two and a half school years. Although students with disabilities make up only 10.8% of students enrolled in the district, every single student the district secluded was a student with disabilities, as were 99% — all but one — of the students the district restrained. The district routinely resorted to seclusion and restraint in non-emergency situations instead of using appropriate behavior interventions tailored to individual students’ needs. The investigation found that these practices often intensified students’ distress, with some students engaging in self-harm and showing other signs of trauma while in seclusion.”

Frederick County Public Schools: “FCPS is committed to systemic changes for the betterment of our students. The safety and wellbeing of our students and staff are of highest priority to the school system. In addition, FCPS firmly embraces the philosophy that restraint and seclusion techniques should only be used when all other less intrusive, non-physical interventions have been exhausted and the emergency situation is necessary to protect a student or another person from imminent, serious, physical harm. While seclusion and restraint have been used as a last resort, limited intervention in our school system, FCPS will initiate further safeguards that reduce the use of restraint and stop the practice of seclusion.”

Department of Justice: “We cannot stand by and watch schools put children with disabilities in isolation thousands of times and call it public education,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The district’s unlawful use of seclusion and restraint did not help students; it led to heightened distress and denied them access to a safe and positive learning environment. Frederick County Public Schools understand the significant work ahead under this agreement and we will ensure that they institute all the institutional reforms necessary to comply with the law.”

“Every child should feel safe and protected while in school,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron of the District Maryland. “The use of seclusion rooms and unjustified physical restraints on young people, particularly those with disabilities, falls painfully short of a school district’s responsibility to support the safety, health, and educational needs of its students. Students with disabilities deserve a school environment rooted in positive, preventive, and supportive classroom strategies. We appreciate Frederick County Public School District’s cooperation in this investigation and are pleased that the district has agreed to take comprehensive steps to ensure that students with disabilities receive equal educational opportunities.”

Frederick County Public Schools: “FCPS is committed to continuous process improvement. More importantly, we are dedicated to serving the whole child; academically, socially and emotionally. FCPS will continue to work closely with our community and the United States Department of Justice to design programs and strategies that support the diverse needs of our student population.”

Department of Justice: The school district cooperated fully throughout the investigation. Under the settlement agreement, the school district will take proactive steps to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities. The district will, among other things:

  • prohibit the use of seclusion;
  • report all instances of restraint and evaluate whether they were justified;
  • designate trained staff to collect and analyze restraint data and oversee the creation of appropriate behavior intervention plans;
  • deliver appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement;
  • design and implement procedures for handling complaints about restraint;
  • offer counseling and compensatory education services to students with disabilities who were subjected to the district’s discriminatory practices; and
  • hire an administrator to supervise school-based staff and ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA.

Frederick County Public Schools: As a result of the agreement reached with the DOJ and our desire to enhance our current practices, we have agreed on several next steps.  These steps include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. Immediately discontinuing the use of seclusion;
  2. Ensuring that all staff involved in restraint are properly trained on its use;
  3. Hiring or reassigning Behavior Analysts to provide professional learning, review incident reports and debrief incidents when restraint is used, monitor and collect data to determine ongoing needs of students and staff based on trends;  
  4. Developing a secure electronic system that stores all physical restraint incident reports, and;
  5. Notifying families whose child(ren) have experienced seclusion and restraint to offer support and services due to the potential impact of restraint and seclusion.


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