The ACLU of Ohio is asking the Ohio Department of Education to phase out the use of seclusion and restraint in Ohio schools by 2016. In the meanwhile, schools should have to report to the state how they use seclusion and restraint and give parents a way to file complaints if they believe seclusion or restraint is misused, the ACLU says.
Seclusion rooms are enclosed spaces that are supposed to be used in emergency situations to restrain children who become violent. They’re often used on children with disabilities. But a 2012 investigation by The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio found that the rooms are instead sometimes used to punish children or as a convenience for staff.
In Ohio, no state law governs seclusion rooms, and the Ohio Department of Education has provided little guidance and virtually no oversight to schools.
“As recent media coverage has shown, Ohio schools currently have little, if any, oversight on the use of seclusion rooms,” said ACLU of Ohio Policy Director Shakyra Diaz. “Drafting a policy is the first step, but to be effective, this policy must set clear goals to end the use of seclusion rooms in favor of a better system.”
The Ohio Department of Education and state Board of Education are currently developing a policy on how seclusion and restraint may be used in schools. Once approved, that policy is scheduled to take effect for the 2013-14 school year. The ACLU and other groups responded to the department’s request for feedback on that draft policy.
The draft policy would not ban the use of seclusion or restraint. But it would require that they only be used in cases of “immediate threat of physical harm.”
The draft policy would also apply only to traditional public schools, and not to charter schools, private schools, or educational service centers. A significant number of children with disabilities are enrolled in charter schools and programs operated by educational service centers.
The Ohio Department of Education has said that it does not believe it has the authority to require charter schools to adopt policies on the use of seclusion and restraint.
Other changes to the draft policy the ACLU is calling for include:
- Requiring an examination by a doctor or nurse after each incident of seclusion or restraint;
- Annual reviews of specific data on the use of seclusion and restraint;
- Immediate notification to parents and administrators of seclusion or retraint lasting longer than 15 minutes; and
- A formal grievance procedure that allows for anonymous reporting.
While the draft policy is being finalized, the Ohio Department of Education has not given schools direction about how to use seclusion and restraint.
“It seems like it would be beneficial to a school district to not involve themselves in this until a policy is in place,” Diaz said.
Ohio Department of Education spokesperson John Charlton said in a written statement, “The Department of Education appreciates the suggestions from the ACLU, we will consider them along with the other comments we received during the public comment period.”
We’ve asked the department for copies of those comments and will share them once we receive them.