December 30th, 2021 the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) published a press release that says that MSDE will take active measures to prevent the illegal and discriminatory use of restraint and seclusion in Maryland Schools. MSDE Superintendent Choudhury has directed a top-to-bottom review of state regulations, policies, and procedures on restraint and seclusion; and moves to eliminate the practice.
“In all cases, restraint and seclusion should be a last resort, employed 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.”State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury
We applaud MSDE and Superintendent Choudhury for the initiative to take action. We hope that MSDE will consider immediate guidance and policy to ban the practice of seclusion across the state. While Maryland has some of the strongest laws in the nation around the use of restraint and seclusion most instances of restraint and seclusion do not meet the legal criteria of use.
Maryland State law says that restraint and/or seclusion should only be used if there is an emergency situation and physical restraint and/or seclusion is necessary to protect a student or other person from imminent, serious, physical harm after other less intrusive, nonphysical interventions have failed or been determined inappropriate.
Imminent, serious, physical harm has the same meaning as serious bodily injury as used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It means bodily injury which involves:
- A substantial risk of death;
- Extreme physical pain;
- Protracted and obvious disfigurement; or
- Protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.
While the standard of use is a life or death standard, in most cases restraint and/or seclusion are used in Maryland Schools for:
- Bad language
- Minor injury
- Property damage
On December 12th, 2021 the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint sent a letter (see below) to State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury asking MSDE to take action. Today we are pleased to read the press release and hope to hear from the Maryland State Department of Education so that we can collaborate towards a solution.
I am writing to you today on behalf of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR), as well as the children and families who attend Maryland Public Schools. AASR is a Maryland nonprofit corporation operating through a fiscal sponsorship with Players Philanthropy Fund. We are a community of over 16,000 parents, self-advocates, teachers, school administrators, paraprofessionals, attorneys, related service providers, and others working together to influence change in the way we support children who may exhibit behaviors of concern. The mission of AASR is to educate the public and to connect people who are dedicated to changing minds, laws, policies, and practices so that restraint, seclusion, suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment, and other harmful practices are reduced and eliminated from schools across the nation and beyond. Our vision is safer schools for students, teachers, and staff.
It seems that the members of the Frederick County Board of Education were surprised by the recent settlement agreement with the Department of Justice related to the excessive use of restraint and seclusion in Fredrick County Public Schools. Perhaps you were also surprised by this development. Unfortunately, we were not surprised at AASR. You see, I started AASR about three years ago after my son was illegally restrained, secluded, and traumatized in a Calvert County, Maryland Public School. I began to advocate for change in Calvert County after I realized Calvert County had one of the highest rates of restraint and seclusion usage in the State of Maryland when viewed by enrollment. In fact, Calvert County and Frederick County had the highest rates of restraint and seclusion in the 2017/18 Restraint and Seclusion Data Collection; Findings, and Recommendations report that the Maryland State Department of Education produced and sent to the General Assembly as required by Senate Bill 786.
In early 2019 I began working with the Calvert County Superintendent and the Board of Education. The Superintendent formed a Restraint and Seclusion Committee, which included parents, teachers, and administrators. Ultimately in Calvert County members of the Board of Education supported efforts to change the policy and practice around the use of restraint and seclusion. While it was not an easy process the county was responsive and took ownership of the issue. The policy today prohibits seclusion and has greatly reduced the use of restraint. Why didn’t this happen in Frederick County? Why was a Department of Justice investigation needed to prompt change?
After seeing progress in Calvert County I tried to raise awareness about the issue in Frederick County and across the state. I reached out to the State Superintendent and the State Board of Education. On June 24th, 2019 I sent an email to the members of the Maryland State Board of Education and Superintendent Salmon outlining my serious concerns related to the use of restraint and seclusion in schools across the state. While MSDE did respond to my email in a letter sent on July 29th, they did not answer any of my questions.
On September 24th, 2019 I traveled to Baltimore and provided public comment to the State Board of Education. In my comments, I applauded Superintendent Daniel Curry and the Calvert County Board of Education for taking appropriate action and asked what the Maryland State Department of Education was doing to address high rates of restraint and seclusion in other counties including Frederick, Charles, Washington, and Baltimore. On January 3rd, 2020 we published an article about increasing rates of restraint and seclusion across the state of Maryland. According to the 2018/19 Restraint and Seclusion Data Collection; Findings, and Recommendations report, Frederick County Public Schools had the highest rate of seclusion and the second-highest rate of restraint in the state as viewed by enrollment. Yet nothing was being done in Frederick County or across the state to address the issue.
There are few policies in a school system that if abused can lead to lifelong trauma (PTSD), significant injuries, or even death, however, restraint and seclusion use is one such issue. There are few issues that so disproportionately impact disabled, Black, and brown students as well as students with a trauma history. You are likely wondering why Superintendent Alban choose not to share this information with members of the Frederick County Public Schools Board of Education. Certainly, Superintendent Alban must have been aware of the data as it was submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education. Certainly, Superintendent Alban must have known that restraint and seclusion usage was an issue being raised in other districts across the state. Why then was the data not shared with the members of the Board of Education. After all, had this information been shared there would have been an opportunity to proactively address this issue much like was done in Calvert County Public Schools. If the appropriate leadership had been demonstrated there would have been an opportunity to end the trauma and abuse sooner and avoid a Department of Justice investigation. I hope these things are considered as you weigh your next steps. Of course, the other question is why didn’t MSDE do more?
Superintendent Choudhury, I am sure you will agree more needs to be done. The previous Superintendent did not take sufficient action. While AASR is working with others in the state to support additional legislation I believe that you should take immediate action. I would like to ask you to consider immediate guidance and policy to ban the practice of seclusion across the state. I would love the opportunity to discuss this issue with you and work together towards a solution.
Founder and Executive Director
Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint