Feds reach deal to protect disabled students in Florida district from seclusion

Okaloosa County School District will prohibit seclusion and reform its restraint practices.

Students with disabilities should be shielded from seclusion and restraint after a federal investigation found they had been physically and verbally abused in a Florida school district.

The Okaloosa County School District in the state’s panhandle has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which in October 2020 began investigating Americans with Disabilities Act violations and “discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint on students with disabilities” in the system, the agency said.

As far back as the 2015-2016 school year, district personnel secluded and restrained students without attempting to use behavior management or de-escalation strategies, the federal investigation found. As a result, some students with disabilities suffered injuries and missed hours of class time, the DOJ said. The district, which cooperated fully in the investigation, has agreed to prohibit seclusion, reform its restraint practices and bring other disciplinary procedures into compliance.

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“Schools must provide students with disabilities appropriate educational supports and cannot resort to practices that physically and mentally harm them,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“The Justice Department will vigorously pursue allegations of abuse and unlawful restraint and seclusion of students and will not stand by when their rights are infringed,” Clarke added.

The district has agreed to:

  • Limit its use of restraint
  • Clarify and improve crisis-response team procedures and post-restraint procedures
  • Report all instances of restraint and evaluate if they were justified
  • Train staff to collect and analyze restraint data and oversee the creation of appropriate behavior intervention plans
  • Review procedures for students with disabilities who are restrained on the bus or who have behaviors that may manifest during transport
  • Strengthen its multitiered systems and supports at all schools
  • Reform district complaint procedures and improve internal district investigations into allegations of employee abuse or improper use of restraint or seclusion
  • Strengthen practices related to employee hiring and transfers
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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