14 Jul Special ed students put in seclusion/restraint over 1,100 times, report saysJuly 14, 2016
By: Will Sentell
Students with disabilities were secluded or restrained more than 1,100 times during the past school year, a report unveiled on Wednesday shows.
Most of the students were ages 8-12 and black males, Jamie Wong, director of special education policy for the state Department of Education, told a key state panel.
“That can raise a whole host of questions for further consideration,” Wong told a meeting of the Special Education Advisory Panel.
The 19-member group advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is expected to discuss the topic at its August meeting.
The issue was on the agenda because of a state law approved earlier this year.
The measure, Act 522, set up a 24-member group called the Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline.
The council is supposed to make recommendations to public schools on discipline issues, which have sparked controversy statewide among rank-and-file students over which students get suspended and expelled.
It also requires the state Department of Education to file annual reports with the Legislature on the use of seclusion and restraint for special education students.
Those reports will spell out penalized students by age, race, ethnicity, gender and student disability.
The state has about 74,000 special education students.
Wong said the state’s initial survey on the issue could be explored in detail by the council, which has to hold its first meeting by Sept. 1.
According to the survey, incidents of seclusion or restraint for students with disabilities totaled 1,181 and involved 207 children.
“Obviously there were many students involved multiple times,” Wong said.
The leading disabilities in the cases under review were autism, emotional disturbance, other health impairments or mild intellectual disabilities.
On another topic, the panel heard complaints about a 2015 state law.
It is aimed at ensuring students who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind have a communication plan in their Individualized Education Program, or IEP.
Critics said the requirement is not being carried out as intended.
They also said it is not uncommon for hearing impaired students to be several grades behind in their communication skills.
Rana Ottallah, a member of the panel and the mother of a hearing impaired child in Metairie, told the group there is a link between disruptive behavior linked to seclusion/restraints and the ability of children to communicate.
“This is scary,” Ottallah said.
Others said it takes time for the new requirement to become reality, especially in large school districts.
The same law requires public schools to inform parents or guardians of children who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind to spell out options for those students; provide adult role models when possible and be allowed to interact with their peers in school-sponsored activities.
That issue is also expected on BESE’s August agenda.