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DOJ Announces Settlement With Iowa School District Over Use of Seclusion and Restraint on Special Needs Students

The Department of Justice has announced a settlement with an Iowa school district over their use of seclusion rooms and restraints on special needs students.

The practices were used on students as early as kindergarten.

According to a press release from the DOJ, the Cedar Rapids Community School District in Cedar Rapids “inappropriately and repeatedly secluded and restrained students with disabilities as early as kindergarten in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

The department’s investigation found that instead of meeting the needs of students with disabilities that affect their behavior, the school district subdued them through unnecessary restraints and improper confinement alone in small seclusion rooms, sometimes multiple times in one day and often for excessive periods of time.

“As a result of these practices, some students lost hundreds of hours of instructional time,” the press release said. “The investigation also found that the school district did not end seclusion where students showed signs of crisis or trauma, or when there was no longer any threat of harm.”

Local newspaper The Gazette reported in August that the “district reported 144 incidents of seclusion and restraint during the 2021-22 school year, a decline of more than 600 from four years ago.”

“The district reported 162 incidents during the 2020-21 school year, 556 incidents during the 2019-20 school year, and 757 incidents during the 2018-19 school year,” the report said.

The school district has agreed to a settlement that includes ending the use of seclusion, reforming their restraint practices, and improving staff training to appropriately address and de-escalate students’ disability-related behavior through appropriate behavioral interventions.

“Students with disabilities should not be subjected to discriminatory and abusive seclusion and restraint practices that deny them equal access to education,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “When schools isolate and unlawfully restrain children with disabilities, rather than provide them with the supports needed for success in the classroom, they violate the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our agreement puts the Cedar Rapids Community School District on a path to significant institutional change and reform. We will continue working to ensure that school districts across the country are taking all steps needed to provide every student access to a safe and supportive learning environment.”

The district has also agreed to adopt policies and procedures to assess suicide risk, prevent suicide and self-harm, and implement immediate crisis intervention for students who threaten or engage in self-harm.

“Each and every child deserves an equal opportunity to learn and thrive,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy T. Duax for the Northern District of Iowa. “Our office, in partnership with the department’s Civil Rights Division, will vigorously investigate allegations of discrimination on the basis of disability in all settings, including in our public schools. I am heartened by the district’s commitment to this landmark agreement, which will undoubtedly improve the education and everyday lives of many students in our community.”

The press release noted that this action is the most recent in a series of Civil Rights Division settlements to address and prevent unlawful seclusion and restraint of students with disabilities in public schools.

“In December 2021, for example, the division reached an agreement with the Frederick County Public School District in Maryland, in which the school district agreed to prohibit the use of seclusion in district schools and take proactive steps to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities,” the press release noted. “In December 2020, the division reached a similar agreement with the North Gibson School Corporation in Indiana. These and other matters build on the department’s steadfast commitment to ensuring educational equity and protection of students with disabilities.”

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