Fairfax Co. schools tackling ‘seclusion and restraint’ practices

School officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, are working to address “seclusion and restraint” disciplinary techniques for students with disabilities as they face increasing scrutiny over the issue.

During ongoing budget talks this week, the Fairfax County School Board discussed a number of potential changes aimed at improving the way teachers handle children who have disabilities. Restraint and seclusion refers to the practice of physically restraining students, who often have a disability.

“We are making some good first steps to move the system forward,” said Superintendent Scott Brabrand Thursday. “We recognize that healing does need to happen.”

To limit the practice, board members are considering adding more behavior management teachers, more training for current educators and a special education specialist who would work in the school system’s ombudsman’s office.

“The primary responsibility of this additional position would be to support parents with special education concerns,” said Chief Equity Officer Francisco Durán. “We would have an individual who has greater knowledge and experience in special education.”

Brabrand said an independent counsel is currently reviewing the school system’s use of restraint and seclusion. He also said that officials were working to establish a task force that could investigate the practice and provide recommendations moving forward.

He did not have an estimate on how much money the system would ultimately spend on all the changes.

“We don’t want to cost out long-term solutions before we’ve done the work of that task force, or the outside independent review is conducted,” Brabrand said.

School board member Elizabeth Schultz expressed skepticism that adding more employees would help.

“Why are we adding more people when it’s really a professional development issue?” Schultz asked. “I don’t feel like we’re actually talking about what the goal is.”

Brabrand responded by saying that current educators need hands-on guidance.

“We can’t just put people in the classroom, close the door and hope it goes well,” he said.

Fairfax County Public Schools began facing intense scrutiny over the issue following a story by WAMU that showed the school system had reported, incorrectly, that no students were being retrained or secluded. Documents later revealed hundreds of cases showing otherwise.

School officials said they are working to compile the correct information and will submit it to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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