Putting Education Reform To The Test

Florida Keeps Two Sets Of Seclusion Data — And Why Neither May Tell The Full Story

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

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.

Last week, we posted data we received from the Florida Department of Education on the instances of student seclusion and restraint in Florida schools.

Readers chimed in saying they’ve seen different data. And we’ve figured out why.

The Florida Department of Education keeps two sets of student seclusion and restraint data.

Every incident is supposed to be recorded in both reports. But the FLDOE says school districts may not know that.

One set of FLDOE data shows more than four times as many students were isolated in seclusion rooms than a second set of data we used, the School Environmental Safety Incident Report (SESIR).

Neither of those figures probably reflects the total instances of seclusion and restraint, though state officials say school districts should be recording incidents of seclusion and restraint in both reports.

Here’s why:

The SESIR is supposed to capture every safety incident in schools, including school-related events and school buses.

The SESIR records school suspensions, expulsions, corporal punishment incidents and instances of seclusion and restraint for disciplinary and safety reasons.

But Cheryl Etters with the Florida Department of Education says some school districts view the SESIR as a place to record discipline problems only.

“Districts don’t understand that they need to record [restraint and seclusion] in two places,” she said. “They look at the SESIR as just a discipline issue.”

Before 2010, schools were not required to notify parents when students with disabilities were restrained or secluded. And schools did not have to record the incidents.

Two years ago the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring schools to document and report the use of seclusion and restraint, and monitor the requirements for using both practices on students with disabilities.

So now school districts are supposed to record seclusion and restraint data in two places.

(See the requirements and restrictions on restraint here). 

When schools started reporting this data in 2010, Etters, with the FLDOE, says it appears school districts may have stopped entering the same data in the SESIR. This is why the initial data we received from the state was incomplete.

Etters says it’s likely neither of the two data sets has captured every incident.

One set of FLDOE data finds 9,751 students were restrained during the 2011-2012 school year, and 10,683 students were restrained the year before.

It also finds 4,245 students were secluded during the 2011-2012 school year, and 4,637 students were secluded the year before.

But another FLDOE report — the School Environmental Safety Incident Report (SESIR) — finds that only 969 students were secluded in 2011, which we published last week.

Part of the Problem

Seclusion and restraint is not always used as a form of discipline.

Seclusion and restraint is mostly used on students with disabilities. And when that’s the case, it isn’t considered a form of discipline — but a safety precaution.

Here’s how the state defines it.

Restraint and seclusion are defined as emergency interventions sometimes used in schools when students are exhibiting disruptive or dangerous behavior. The methods should be used to prevent students from harming themselves and others, and should only be used in emergency situations when an imminent risk of serious injury or death to the student or others exists. Neither seclusion nor restraint are considered to be disciplinary actions, but rather an intervention intended to keep students safe.

Discipline vs. Safety

A student who gets in a school fight could be secluded or restrained as a form of discipline. A situation like this is likely to be reported to the school and to the district, and the incident would be recorded in the SESIR.

Students with disabilities would be secluded or restrained to keep them from causing harm to themselves or others. This happens in the classroom and is not likely to be reported to the school or district.

The law says teachers must record the incident on a web-based system and also notify the parents.

“The teacher may not realize they have to record it in the SESIR [also],” says Etters.


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