NDRN Applauds GAO Report on Restraint and Seclusion

June 18, 2019
NDRN Applauds GAO Report on Restraint and Seclusion

For Immediate Release                 

Contact: David Card                
202.408.9514 x122
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is pleased with the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the under-reporting of restraint and seclusion (R&S) data in the Office for Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The title of the report says it all: K-12 Education: Education Should Take Immediate Action to Address Inaccuracies in Federal Restraint and Seclusion Data. GAO’s study documents what those in the protection and advocacy network have long known—the CRDC data significantly undercounts the actual incidents of R&S in our nation’s schools. GAO found that for the 2015-16 school year:

  • 70 percent of the more than 17,000 school districts in the U.S. reported zero incidents of restraint and zero incidents of seclusion. However, GAO’s analysis and documents from the Department of Education (ED) showed substantial evidence that nine of the 30 largest districts (those with more than 100,000 students) inaccurately reported zeros when they actually had incidents or did not have the data.
  • The GAO went on to give the example of the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, which has about 186,000 students, and “reported zero incidents in school year 2015-16 but recently acknowledged that it had over 1,600 incidents of restraint or seclusion in school year 2017-18.”

“We call on the Office for Civil Rights to take the steps recommended by the GAO and to ensure that the CRDC data collection accurately reflects the use of R&S across the country,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. “The Education Department is currently collecting data for the 2017-18 school year. It is critical that they take steps now to address underreporting.”

The CRDC data summaries historically show that students with disabilities, students of color and boys are disproportionately subjected to R&S. As noted by GAO, the uses of R&S should only take place as a last resort—“when a child’s behavior poses an imminent risk of serious physical harm to self or others.” Yet without accurate data, it is impossible to know the true extent of the use of R&S or to know which school districts are actually using R&S the most. As noted by GAO, “Without adequate systems in place to ensure the accurate, complete reporting of restraint and seclusion data, districts may continue to erroneously report zero incidents and Education may be hindered in its enforcement of civil rights laws.”

NDRN is also extremely grateful for the response to the GAO study by Chairman Bobby Scott and Representative Don Beyer of the House Education and Labor Committee. We are happy to hear that they plan to reintroduce the Keeping All Students Safe Act later this year.

As they note:

The GAO “report is also further evidence that the state patchwork of restraint and seclusion standards is failing to protect students and educators. Congress must establish a nationwide minimum safety standard that gives educators, school districts, and states the tools and training to use more effective, evidence-based strategies that improve school climate.”

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.