If you are the parent of a child enrolled in special education classes here in Virginia, you likely already have your own horror stories of teachers, principals and other school personnel who disregard your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) when it is expedient for them.
Advocating for your child begins early and typically is required through all phases of their educational journey to ensure that their rights to a quality education are upheld. This is something that was recently brought home to parents of children enrolled in the special ed programs at Fairfax County Public Schools just a few miles northeast of Manassas.
Involuntary confinement common?
As reported by media outlet WAMU-FM, the school system’s policies for use of restraints and seclusion are under investigation due to the allegedly underreported use of both practices in the district schools. Their report identified “hundreds” of unreported cases of students confined or secluded. As per current federal laws, all cases involving confinement or restraint must be duly reported.
The Fairfax County school superintendent issued a statement reading, in part, “We want to ensure that all school-based personnel trained in the use of seclusion [and] restraint understand the appropriate use of the procedures.”
Under the policies in place in the county, neither restraints or seclusion should be used on students unless a “dangerous situation” develops and “seclusion or restraint [becomes] necessary to protect the student or others,” the superintendent stated.
The investigation will explore the methods of notifying parents of the actions taken, how well staff have been trained and the process of collecting and reporting data.
Why it’s a huge problem
In the past, injudicious use of restraint and seclusion has been disproportionately used on special education students. In some of the worst cases, students have suffered injuries and even died.
In 2018, The Washington Post reported on alleged events that took place in the Loudoun County Public Schools where parents claim that their children were endangered.
In that instance, the state Department of Education (DoE) reviewed the county’s policies for use of restraints and seclusion. The DoE concluded there was “no evidence of systemic failure” of the Loudoun County Public Schools to comply with the guidelines.
This comes on the heels of a January 17 press release by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announcing that the federal Department of Education is addressing “the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in our nation’s schools.”
Seeking legal guidance when faced with disputes involving your child’s IEP and/or the use of disciplinary actions can provide parents with insight and clarity.