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In February 2016 Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) released an eye opening report regarding the use of restraints and seclusion rooms in Ohio schools. As a blogger I tend to report on Adults with Disabilities and employment opportunities, however because of my past and most recent experience in the school system, I could not help but think this is all related material. With Ohio moving in the direction of Employment First and the readjusting of a “workshop” mentality, we must take a closer look at how the pre-adolescents with disabilities are being taught about the concept of community integration. Make no mistake, many schools have amazing transition programs to get youth into the community way more than some of our adult programs. However to be fair, we must look at the whole system. In this article I will highlight the actual report from DRO as well as other parties that have weighed in on the matter.

School Districts in Ohio

Disability Rights Ohio Background

Disability Rights Ohio is the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy system and Client Assistance Program for the state of Ohio, whose mission is to advocate for the human, civil and legal rights of people with disabilities in Ohio. Disability Rights Ohio has investigated multiple claims of abuse and neglect involving restraint and seclusion across multiple state systems including the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Ohio Department of Youth Services, and the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

Both in the education system and adult support system, restraint and seclusion for the purposes of behavior intervention have remained controversial. As a whole, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and Ohio Department of Education agree with the stance of least restrictive measures; Meaning the least restrictive (or hands off approach) is always the best. This may include involving a Behavior Support Specialist, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, or all of the above to come up with a hands free approach. To agree with this statement, in 2013 the Ohio Department of Education enacted a revised rule limiting the use of restraints and/or seclusion, the need for each district to develop policies and procedures to come into compliance as well as reporting procedures.

DRO Report Findings

The 2013-2014 school year was the first year the revised rule was in effect. Schools are now required to report the incidents that included these types of behavior intervention and for that school year alone over 10,000 incidents were reported for the state of Ohio. An issue of concern is that

There is currently no plan for the Ohio Department of Education to follow up on reports of restraint and seclusion to determine if such methods were used appropriately.

When News 5 Cleveland reported on this concern they completed some further investigation which includes the following statistics:

…Investigators reviewed the Ohio Department of Education’s database of reported incidents, we found schools reported 20,945 incidents during the 2014-2015 school year. More than 400 students involved in those incidents were injured. We also found the number of reported incidents was 52 percent higher than during the 2013-2014 school year when the state rule limiting their use first took effect.

Dayton Daily News reported specific numbers for local school districts, again eye opening…

The (Montgomery County Educational Service Center) ESC was second in Ohio in restraints in the 2014-15 school year, with 120 students restrained a total of 1,159 times. It was the state’s runaway leader in seclusions, with 1,382 occurrences involving 149 individual students… Other local districts that had moderately high numbers of incidents in 2014-15 were Middletown Schools, with 103 restraints and 218 seclusions; Fairfield with 94 and 102; Springfield with 83 and 46; Centerville with 35 and 52; and Kettering with 79 restraints but only eight seclusions.

Furthermore, The United States Department of Education reports that 14% of children in Ohio schools have a disability but account for 80% of all restraint/seclusion incidents.

Next Steps

In the report submitted by DRO, there are a list of recommendations for the Ohio Department of Education to review. These recommendations include:

  • Robust monitoring of incidents of restraint and seclusion
  • Effective system for reporting and investigations
  • Consistent notification and documentation requirements
  • Cross-agency collaboration
  • Commitment to performance improvement

Alongside the list of recommendations, Kim Sanders, an internationally known behavioral health specialist is urging Ohio to make policy changes. She states to the Morrow County Sentinel

Studies show that these type of behavioral management techniques only perpetuate aggression and induce trauma to all involved, including the other children in the classroom.

The ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, has also weighed in on the topic stating

Ending inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in Ohio’s schools requires more than simply putting a policy in place – it involves a change in culture at every level of the education system. The current culture puts too many Ohio students at risk of injury, death, or trauma.

In Conclusion

The DRO has effectively revealed major concerns within Ohio Schools. It is apparent that action needs to be taken to ensure the safety, rights and independence of students with Disabilities. As stated in my first paragraph, restraint and seclusion within our schools only rolls over to adult life. As Ohio prepares the way for Employment First and opportunities for all individuals with a disability to work, the two ideologies do not line up. I also believe school systems should be taking a closer look at integration as a whole within classrooms and not having separate ‘units’. I am grateful this topic is being uncovered as it will only help propel Ohio in the right direction for change.

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