Anchorage School District agrees to end seclusions, limit restraints

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Dive Brief:

  • Alaska’s Anchorage School District has agreed to prohibit the use of seclusion and limit the use of restraint, among other steps, after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found improper practices at specialized schools and programs for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.  
  • Between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 schools years, the district secluded and/or restrained 227 students in nearly 4,000 individual incidents. A majority of those students (82%) were students with disabilities, even though only 15% of the district’s total student population had disabilities, according to a Feb. 16 letter from DOJ to the district’s attorney.
  • This latest settlement agreement follows several other recently announced agreements between school systems and federal civil rights investigators aimed at ending discriminatory discipline activities for students with disabilities, and it comes as school systems seek best practices for addressing challenging student behaviors.

Dive Insight:

In the last six months, DOJ’s Civil Rights Division announced two other settlement agreements with school systems in Florida and Iowa over restraint and seclusion practices for students with disabilities. In December, the U.S. Department of Education said it reached agreements with districts in Virginia and California. 

When schools use seclusion and improper restraints as the default method of managing the behavior of students with disabilities, they violate the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement.

Federal law does not prohibit restraint and seclusion of students, but in a July 2022 guidance document from the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, OSERS said it was not aware of any evidence-based support for the use of restraint or seclusion as an effective strategy in addressing a student’s behaviors related to their disability.

“The Department’s longstanding position is that every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint or seclusion and that behavioral interventions must be consistent with the child’s rights to be treated with dignity and to be free from abuse,” the guidance said.

OSERS also said the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires educators to consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, as well as other strategies to address the behavior of students with disabilities. 

Additionally, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has said that better restraint and seclusion reporting practices are needed for data collection purposes. Past research by GAO has found some very large districts reporting low or zero incidents of restraint or seclusion.

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