NDRN Applauds New Guidance on School-based Discipline

July 19, 2022
NDRN Applauds New Guidance on School-based Discipline

For Immediate Release                 

Contact: David Card                
202.408.9514 x122
[email protected]

WASHINGTON DC – The National Disability Rights Network applauds the guidance documents on school-based discipline from the United States Department of Education, Office for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services and the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.  Taken as a whole, these guidance documents are critically important efforts to provide much needed clarity on school-based discipline processes, informal removals, threat/risk assessments, interactions with law enforcement, restraint and seclusion, and on denials of a free appropriate public education to children and youth with disabilities.

In particular, the guidance documents define and caution against the increasing practice of informal school removals, which, in their many forms, effectively deny education and supportive services to students without the protection of federal law.   By identifying what can be an “informal removal” and by demonstrating how those types of removals violate student and parent rights, more children and youth will stay in school for full school days and receive the help and supports they need and are entitled to. NDRN recently released a report on the misuse of informal removals. Additionally, the guidance also discusses the practice of threat/risk assessments and indicates that, if school districts use them, the districts must also comply with federal laws that provide procedural safeguards to students and parents.  Further, there is guidance on how schools may need to make reasonable accommodations for interactions between youth with disabilities and school-based law enforcement.

NDRN’s Deputy Executive Director for Public Policy Eric Buehlmann emphasized that “the guidance documents represent significant and much needed clarity on where the guardrails are for school districts if they choose to use informal removals, risk assessments, or restraint/seclusion on students with disabilities, especially those who are from low-income families and those who are students of color.”  He continued that “the guidance will promote the rights of students with disabilities and will encourage school districts to re-frame their punitive approaches to alternative proactive strategies that effectively encourage skill development, access to resources, positive behavior, as well as avoid the legal problems of inappropriate and ineffective removals and assessments.” 

Further and critically, the guidance indicates that there simply is no evidence base to support the use of restraint and seclusion as an appropriate tool to meaningfully and successfully address negative student behavior and that such use may be a denial of a free appropriate public education under federal law.  Indeed, it is clear that restraint and seclusion is more likely to cause more harm to students, create trauma for staff, and result in significant education and service denial.  NDRN has long warned against use of restraint and seclusion in public schools as well as the income and racial disparities of those students most frequently subjected to these harmful practices. See, for example, starting with NDRN’s 2009 Report “School is Not Supposed to Hurt,” and more recently in our 2022 white paper.

“The guidance on restraint and seclusion is a powerful step forward to protect the civil, education, and human rights of youth with disabilities,” said Buehlmann.    “NDRN is deeply appreciative of the Department’s continued attention to safeguarding the health, safety, education, and well-being of our nation’s children.”

Together, these documents will assist school districts in providing positive and effective supports to students that keep them and their school communities safe while also ensuring that students’ rights are vigorously protected.