Christina A. Samuels
One out of every 100 special education students was restrained by school personnel or secluded in school from his or her peers in the 2013-14 school year, presumably to quell behavior that teachers considered disruptive or dangerous.
That means nearly 70,000 special education students were restrained or secluded in that school year, the most recent for which data are available. For most students, this happened more than once: States reported more than 200,000 such incidents, so on average, a special education student was restrained or secluded about three times.
These statistics, based on an analysis by the Education Week Research Center of data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights, represent the best national snapshot of these controversial practices.
The numbers are also, almost surely, dramatically understated.
Many large districts, including New York City and Chicago, were among the nearly 80 percent of districts that reported no special education students being restrained or secluded.
Advocacy groups and news organizations have investigated restraint and seclusion incidents in individual states and have found large undercounts. This is true even in states such as Indiana and Maine that have their own reporting requirements separate from the federal collection of civil rights data.
The shaky record keeping has serious consequences for students, who are traumatized or injured at unknown rates; teachers, who say they aren’t getting the help they need to deal with troubled students; and advocates and policymakers, who say they want to end inappropriate use of these practices.
The data also show how challenging it is to regulate restraint and seclusion through policy. Whether students are restrained or secluded appears to have more to do with the culture of the school or district they attend than with any state rules or regulations meant to restrict the practice. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire, examining previous collections of restraint and seclusion data, found that the vast majority of the variance in reported restraint and seclusion rates is found among districts in the same state, all presumably governed by the same policies.