The public may not know the extent to which FL schools are restraining and secluding students

Boy sitting on the floor, sad
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services photo

While it’s considered rare, public schools in Florida and across the nation are still restraining and secluding students as punishment.

Restricting a student means the child can’t freely move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head. Seclusion means “involuntarily confining a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.”

And school districts may not be reporting all the incidents, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In fact, “70 percent of the more than 17,000 school districts in the U.S. reported zero incidents of restraint and zero incidents of seclusion,” according to the report published earlier this month. That analysis indicates that school data sent to the federal government “do not accurately capture all incidents of restraint and seclusion in schools.”

Earlier federal reviews reported that the punitive practices are more prevalent when it comes to boys and students with disabilities. The federal Department of Education says that restraint or seclusion “should never be used except in situations where a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others.”

It seems unlikely that there’d be no reports of restraint and seclusion incidents, particularly in large school districts with more than 100,000 kids, the new analysis showed.

Large Florida districts –  for example, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval and Pinellas  – reported incidents of restraints, seclusion or both, based on 2015-16 data. But Miami-Dade, Broward and Polk school districts reported zero incidents.

The districts report data to the Civil Rights Data Collection, and the information must be “true and correct.” That data is considered key to enforcement of civil rights laws that protect students from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability.

But many districts appear to have reported incorrectly, such as leaving information blank, or not even collecting the data on restraints and seclusion, according to the new analysis.

In the cases where three Florida school districts reported zero incidents, an error occurred on the part of the federal government, the report said, but Florida didn’t have to submit any revisions.

Of the large Florida counties that did report incidents for 2015-16, here are the figures:

Hillsborough: 24 restraint incidents; 32 seclusion incidents.

Orange: 18 restraint incidents; 81 seclusion incidents.

Palm Beach: 94 restraint incidents; 0 seclusion incidents.

Duval: 23 restraint incidents; 26 seclusion incidents.

Pinellas: 42 restraint incidents; 33 seclusion incidents.

 

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