Building a seclusion room inside or directly alongside a special education classroom is discrimination

When you build a seclusion room inside or in close proximity to a segregated special education classroom, that is discrimination. It not only signals an intent to discriminate and use seclusion almost exclusively on children in these programs the data backs it up. The best Federal data that we have on seclusion indicates that 77% of seclusions are done to children with disabilities, despite the fact that children with disabilities only make up 16% of total enrollment. State data is often as high as 95-100% of children secluded are children with disabilities. This is discrimination.

U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing several federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age. OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools. OCR’s role is to provide guidance and enforce civil rights laws.

It is not hard to see that there is significant discrimination happening in schools around the nation when it comes to the use of restraint and seclusion.

80% of restraints and 77% of seclusion are done to children with disabilities. This is clearly discriminatory.

What can OCR do? They can and should provide improved guidance and stricter enforcement of civil rights laws.

Let’s ask OCR

I recently reached out to OCR to ask them about their position and whether they had guidance on the issue of building seclusion rooms in or near special education classrooms. What follows are the many emails in search of the answer. In my opinion, OCR needs to do more. The response to this chain of emails is not good enough. Kids are being traumatized and injured every day in our schools. We need better guidance and expanded enforcement. If you agree, send OCR an email (OCR@ed.gov) and tell them we need to do more.

August 4th: Email sent to the Office of Civil Rights

At the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, we are concerned that when a school builds a seclusion room inside or directly alongside a special education classroom, it constitutes discrimination and shows the intent to use seclusion on children with disabilities. What is OCRs position, and do you have guidance on this issue?

Thanks!

Guy Stephens
Founder & Executive Director
Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint


August 4th: Response from the Office of Civil Rights

Dear Mr. Stephens:

We are writing in response to your August 4, 2022, email communication to the U. S. Department of Education’s (Department) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), regarding the law and student rights. 

I am pleased to respond. 

The Department of Education (Department), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing several federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age by recipients of federal financial assistance from the Department.

The email below appears to be regarding technical assistance regarding “Seclusion Room Guidance”. You did not indicate the location/state of educational institution nor the state where you reside. This is needed to refer you to the appropriate regional office for assistance.

In addition to investigating complaints and conducting compliance reviews, OCR enforcement offices are responsible for the provision of technical assistance to recipients.

You may wish to contact the OCR enforcement office that has jurisdiction over the state or U.S. Territory where the educational institution is to request technical assistance.

You can determine the appropriate office by visiting OCR’s website at:  http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.  Click on the hyperlink, Office Contacts, then on the appropriate state or U.S. Territory.  Also, you may call the toll-free number at (800) 421-3481 for assistance.  The link below is a technical assistance video, How to File a Complaint, to assist you with how you can file a complaint with OCR.  This resource provides clear and concise direction on how an individual may bring incidents of potential discrimination to the attention of OCR, and includes information on deadlines, ways to provide the required information to OCR, and potential outcomes of complaint investigations.

Additionally, OCR has prepared a video on “How to File:” https://youtu.be/dvxa5dYNKK8

We hope the information provided is of assistance you.

Sincerely,

OCR, Customer Service Team


Comment: This appears to be a canned response that did not address the question. It was not a question of a specific location, but rather general guidance.


August 4th: Email sent to the Office of Civil Rights in response to their email

The question is a general guidance question not specific to a state or district.

Does OCR consider a seclusion room inside or directly alongside a special education classroom to constitute discrimination as it shows the intent to use seclusion specifically on children with disabilities? 

Please advise or provide an appropriate contact.

Thanks!

Guy Stephens
Founder & Executive Director
Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint


August 22nd: Response from the Office of Civil Rights

Dear Guy Stephens:

This email is in response to your August 9, 2022, email to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  In your inquiry, you asked for OCR’s position on whether, when a school builds a seclusion room inside or directly alongside a special education classroom it constitutes discrimination, and whether it shows the school’s intent to use seclusion on children with disabilities.  You also asked if we have guidance on this issue.  

OCR does not have guidance that addresses your specific question. OCR issued a Dear Colleague Letter in 2016 that describes how we assess whether the use of restraint and seclusion in schools constitutes unlawful discrimination.  For a more recent statement on the topic, see Supporting Students with Disabilities and Avoiding the Discriminatory Use of Student Discipline under Section 504, which cites to the 2016 guidance. In addition, OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) includes information about the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.  More information about the CRDC is available at: Civil Rights Data (ed.gov)

OCR is committed to providing the public, including students, parents, educators, representatives of school districts, colleges, and universities, and other interested persons, with information about the civil rights laws OCR enforces.  Please note that our responses to public inquiries do not constitute Department policy. 

Thank you for contacting us. 

Sincerely,

Disability Rights Team, Program Legal Group
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education


Comment: OCR does not have guidance to address the question. This would be a great thing to add to the OCR to-do list.


August 22nd: Email sent to the Office of Civil Rights in response to their email

Thank you for your response. I believe your response highlights a gap in the current OCR guidance. As you might imagine, I am quite familiar with the existing guidance you mentioned, and none of it addresses the issue we raised.

It is clear to me that when a seclusion room or space is built in or near a special education classroom that it is itself discriminatory. Spaces constructed in or near special education classrooms are used exclusively for children with disabilities.

We believe that OCR should provide guidance that highlights this concern. A school constructing a seclusion space in or near a special education classroom is telegraphing its intent to discriminate.  

Guy Stephens
Founder & Executive Director
Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint


September 9th: Response from the Office of Civil Rights

Dear Guy Stephens:

This correspondence is in response to your August 24, 2022, email to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is a follow-up to your prior communication in August 2022 with OCR about seclusion rooms in schools.  In your most recent email, you explain your concern that when seclusion rooms are built in or near special education classrooms, a school is “telegraphing its intent to discriminate” and you ask OCR to provide guidance on this issue.   

Thank you for informing OCR of your concern about seclusion rooms in schools.  It is useful for OCR to learn perspectives from stakeholders about disability-related issues involving schools.  While at this time we are unable to commit to any specific guidance or position on this issue, we appreciate you taking the time to raise this concern with OCR. 

OCR is committed to providing the public, including students, parents, educators, representatives of school districts, colleges, and universities, and other interested persons, with information about the civil rights laws OCR enforces. Please note that our responses to public inquiries do not constitute Department policy.

Thank you for contacting us.

Sincerely,

Disability Rights Team, Program Legal Group
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education

Comment: Thank you for your opinion, please stop emailing us 🙂

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