Fairfax Co. schools reaches settlement over use of restraints, seclusion on students with disabilities

Virginia’s largest school district has reached an agreement with disability rights organizations and students, which accused Fairfax County schools of unlawful restraint and seclusion practices.

As part of the agreement, seclusion practices will be banned in all Fairfax County Public Schools, and private schools that have contracts with the school system, by the start of the 2022-2023 school year. Seclusion has been prohibited in most county schools since Jan. 1, 2021.

The school system is also prohibiting the use of physical restraints that create a high risk of injury, including prone, supine, floor restraints and chokeholds, limiting the use of physical restraints only when it is necessary to prevent students from seriously harming themselves or others.

Also, Fairfax County schools must also stop using restraints or seclusion as part of individualized education programs, or IEPs, moving forward.

Fairfax County Public Schools initially faced scrutiny after a WAMU story in 2019 detailed inaccurate reporting by the school district — the school system said that no students were being retrained or secluded. Documents later revealed hundreds of cases of restraint and seclusion in across Fairfax County schools.

FCPS said that it will continue to look for ways to eliminate physical restraints and seclusion altogether. The overhaul of these practices started after concerns were raised in spring 2019, and an assistant ombudsman for special education has already been hired, an FCPS news release said.

“Since the allegations were made, FCPS has taken direct action to ensure the dignified and appropriate treatment of students with disabilities,” FCPS said.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit included parents, the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and CommunicationFIRST.

In a joint statement, they said that they were encouraged by the steps that the school system has taken to improve policies, education and growth potential for students.

“Although the trauma the children in this lawsuit have endured because of restraint and seclusion can never be undone, we expect this resolution will ensure that no other student will ever have to experience such trauma,” the group said, adding that they hope these policies will give better guidance to teachers and staff so that policies can benefit both those employees and the students they serve.

Families in these lawsuits, which started in October 2019, were supported by three national organizations and represented by a Baltimore law firm.

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Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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