INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Commission on Seclusion and Restraint in Schools is vowing to better educate school districts on the importance of accurately reporting when they use seclusion or restraint on a child.
The commission met Thursday for the first time in five months to talk about school districts misreporting the number of instances.
Call 6 Investigates exposed the problem in a special report that aired in October 2016.
Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney found despite a new law requiring school districts to report when a child is secluded or restrained; some schools appeared to over or under report the number of incidents.
“This data is not accurate,” said commission member Joan McCormick, with the Indiana Council for Administrators of Special Education (ICASE).
McCormick questioned a number of school districts about their data and found some staff members were confused on the definitions of seclusion and restraint
Seclusion is essentially when a student is physically prevented from leaving, such as by being placed in a room by themselves, and restraint is usually when a staff person, such as a teacher, places the child in a manual hold.
The commission vowed Thursday to offer school districts better, clearer definitions of seclusion and restraint moving forward.
Call 6 Investigates found more than half of school districts, or 54 percent, reported zero incidents of seclusion and restraint during the entire 2015-2016 school year, including some of the largest school districts in Indiana.
Of the 362 school districts, 191 reported 0 restraints and 0 seclusions.
Parent and commission member Nicole Hicks said Thursday some districts used school resource officers to handle students so could avoid reporting a seclusion and restraint incident.
The Indiana legislature is currently considering legislation, Senate Bill 61, that would require school resource officers to report incidents.
Another reason for school districts misreporting incidents is due to staff turnover, according to commission member and former Superintendent Dr. Denis Ward.
Call 6 Investigates found school districts who misreported incidents because they incorrectly include “time-outs.”
Richmond Community Schools initially reported 257 restraints and 1,446 seclusions.
However, when Call 6 Investigates reached out to the district to confirm the numbers, the district said the numbers were wrong.
“After reviewing the data and speaking with the IDOE, we have determined Richmond Community Schools has over identified and coded seclusions incorrectly,” said Bridget Hazelbaker, Communication Coordinator for Richmond Community Schools, in an email to Call 6 Investigates in 2016. “Moving forward, we understand the defining and coding of seclusions.”
Cameras are not required in seclusion rooms or classrooms, and some children with special needs are nonverbal, so the seclusion and restraint information is one of the few ways parents and child advocates can tell what’s going on.
Commission members also said the goal of reporting is ultimately to reduce the number of seclusion and restraint incidents.
Seclusion and restraint are more likely to be used on children with special needs as a way to prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
The commission plans to meet this spring to talk about ways to educate school districts about seclusion and restraint reporting.
Here's a parent checklist:
- Check your district’s numbers
- Ask your school if they use seclusion or restraint
- When discussing your child’s IEP with the school, ask whether seclusion or restraint is included
- If your school doesn’t have seclusion rooms, ask if they call them something else? (Calming, sensory, etc.)
- Ask to see your school’s seclusion and restraint policy
- Contact Indiana Disability Rights if you have concerns at 317-722-5555 or 1-800-622-4845