COLUMBUS (AP) — The number of times children were secluded or restrained in Ohio’s public schools last year should be a call for schools to reduce reliance on those methods of addressing behavioral problems, a civil rights organization said.
The Ohio Department of Education recently reported that children in Ohio’s public schools were secluded about 5,000 times last school year and were restrained about 9,000 times. The children were mostly special-education students and many were restrained or secluded multiple times, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1CzOMUA) reported Saturday.
The interventions are happening too often, said Shakyra Diaz, policy manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
“Folks should be concerned,” she said.
Columbus City Schools reported more instances of physical restraint than any other district, with 2,188 reported in the central Ohio district. Middletown schools near Cincinnati in southwestern Ohio had the next-highest number of restraints, at 399. Cleveland, in northeastern Ohio, reported only 59.
Some educators say seclusion and restraint are needed for safety reasons and that many students choose seclusion as a way to calm down.
The state education board passed rules in 2013 prohibiting schools from using seclusion rooms or physical restraint as a punishment for children or for staff members’ convenience. The policy also required the education department to begin collecting data in the last school year.
“This is the first year that we’ve collected data; we can do it again next year, and from there we can analyze how these new policies are impacting seclusion and restraint in our schools,” department spokesman John Charlton said. “Our goal is to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion and to encourage the use of positive behavioral reinforcements.”
Seclusion rooms are often small, closet-like spaces with doors. Under the new rules, they are to be used only when a child poses an imminent physical threat.
The ACLU in 2012 called for seclusion rooms to be phased out in Ohio schools within three years. Diaz said that the organization recognized that the reforms would take time.
Collecting and publicly reporting the numbers of seclusions and restraints was a good first step, Diaz said. But she says schools should hold meetings each time the interventions are used to discuss whether changes are needed.
“We’re at the phase where we have to evaluate the data being collected and make sure the culture is moving toward a change,” Diaz said.