Putting Education Reform To The Test

Many Florida Schools Use Seclusion Rooms For Students With Disabilities

Brady Spencer sits with her son Brendon. Brendon has Asperger's, ADHD, and mood disorders. A few years ago she decided to take him out of his Mantua, Ohio public school, where he would often be sent to the hallway or a spare office during class. He now goes to a charter school for special needs kids.

Editor’s note: We’ve followed up this post answering some questions about the data raised by readers. Florida keeps two sets of seclusion data. State officials say school districts should record incidents of seclusion in both sets of data, but admit that it does not happen. As a result, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said, neither set of data may include all incidents of seclusion.

Ohio schools are locking children away in cell-like rooms, closets or old offices, sometimes without their parents knowledge.

The practice, known as seclusion, is often used to discipline or isolate misbehaving students. Often those students have disabilities.

That’s what our colleagues in Ohio — partnering with the Columbus Dispatch — reported this week in a series of stories.

Ohio districts used seclusion more than 4,200 times in the 2009-2010 school year, according to a federal survey, and 60 percent of those cases were students with disabilities.

There’s no evidence that seclusion helps children, but research shows students have hurt themselves and committed suicide in seclusion rooms.

Seclusion is less common in Florida.

Just 28 school districts reported secluding students, according to 2010-2011 Florida Department of Education discipline data. Districts reported 969 instances of seclusion statewide (Florida didn’t report 2009-2010 data to the federal government).

(Editor’s note: A second set of data shows students were secluded 4,637 times during the 2010-2011 school year. More on the differences in the two sets of data here.)

Pinellas County school reported secluding students most often — 197 times.Walton County schools had the second-most incidents of seclusion at 165 and Broward County schools were third with 108 incidents.

Male students were secluded nearly four times more often than female students.

Florida data does not separate out students with disabilities

Florida law has just three restrictions on seclusion rooms, according to attorneys and a Florida lawmaker:

  • No choking students, or restricting their breathing.
  • The fire marshal must approve the room.
  • School officials must leave the lights on.

“Unfortunately there have been some cases throughout Florida where mostly children with disabilities, autistic kids in particular, have been restrained,” Rep. Ari Porth told StateImpact Florida’s Sarah Gonzalez earlier this year. “I’ve heard on some occasions (students) put in storage closets because the administrator or teacher just doesn’t know how to appropriately handle them.”

Hialeah state Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Democrat, introduced a bill this year that would have prohibited schools from secluding students. The bill also limited schools to physically restraining students with disability only when there is “imminent risk of serious injury or death to student or others.”

Only school officials trained to restrain students would be allowed to do so, according to the bill.

The bill died in subcommittee in March.

There are no rules regulating restraint and seclusion in Ohio, and no one knows how widespread the practice is.

StateImpact Ohio has much more on the use of seclusion. We recommend checking out these stories:

Teacher Have Seclusion Rooms, But Not Training in Their Use

Moving Away From Mainstreaming

Which Ohio School Use Seclusion Rooms

Below is a list of the Florida school districts which reported secluding students in 2010-2011, according to state Department of Education data.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to clarify which Florida Department of Education seclusion data is referenced.

[spreadsheet key=”0Av06TaO9jXYrdDNycjN1bXpNTlhVdnl2TmhrQlRBeEE” source=”” filter=0 paginate=1 sortable=1]


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »