Frederick Co. schools reach settlement over discrimination accusations in use of seclusion, restraint

The Frederick County, Maryland, public schools will stop using seclusion as a disciplinary tactic, and change its practices on restraint, after reaching a settlement with federal authorities over accusations of discrimination against students with disabilities.

The office of the United States Attorney for Maryland and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement Wednesday that “the school district unnecessarily and repeatedly secluded and restrained students as young as 5 years old in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The statement from federal authorities said that an investigation that started in October of last year and covered two and a half school years “revealed thousands of incidents of seclusion and restraint.” They said that while 10.8% of students in the district have disabilities, every student who was secluded, and all but one of those restrained, had disabilities.

Seclusion and restraint were used “in non-emergency situations” instead of appropriate interventions, the statement added.

“Every child should feel safe and protected while in school,” U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron said in the statement. “We appreciate Frederick County Public School District’s cooperation in the investigation and are pleased that the District has agreed to take comprehensive steps to ensure that students with disabilities receive equal educational opportunities.”

“We cannot stand by and watch schools put children with disabilities in isolation thousands of times and call it public education,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “Frederick County Public Schools understand the significant work ahead under this agreement and we will ensure that they institute all the institutional reforms necessary to comply with the law.”

Under the settlement, the school system will:

  • Prohibit the use of seclusion;
  • Report all instances of restraint and evaluate whether they were justified;
  • Designate trained staff to collect and analyze restraint data and oversee the creation of appropriate behavior intervention plans;
  • Deliver appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement;
  • Design and implement procedures for handling complaints about restraint;
  • Offer compensatory education services to students with disabilities who were subjected to the district’s discriminatory practices; and
  • Hire an administrator to supervise school-based staff and ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The school system said in a statement that the settlement came after “several months of working collaboratively” with federal officials, and that the settlement “aligns with the vision and work that FCPS has already begun.”

The school district added, “Over the past few years, we have been increasing the use of restorative practices across the district. Additionally, we provide additional professional training for staff who frequently use de-escalation strategies with students in crisis situations. We know that this type of training is critically important for all instructional staff as we respond to the increased need for trauma informed practices in our schools.”

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

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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