A Lamar County School District case illustrates the emotional and controversial nature of seclusion and restraint in schools, a practice that can pit uncontrollable children against untrained staff with the potential for widespread abuse.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan criticized its use in a May 2012 federal report, saying no evidence exists that restraining or secluding children reduces problem behaviors. The report nonetheless acknowledges its prevalence in schools nationwide and recommended states adopt best-practice policies and procedures to regulate it.
Mississippi could take that step this year.
“I think it’s long overdue,” said 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, the Reublican congressman who in 2013 co-sponsored federal legislation establishing minimum standards for the practice. It didn’t pass.
Every year, Mississippi schools forcibly restrain and confine hundreds of students. It happened more than 950 times in the 2011-12 academic year alone, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
But those numbers could be much higher.
The federal agency lacks data for the vast majority of Mississippi’s roughly 150 school districts. Whether that’s because those districts had no incidents to report or because they don’t monitor the practice — and therefore can’t report it — is unclear.
Mississippi doesn’t require schools to track incidents of seclusion and restraint, nor does it regulate the controversial practice, despite tragic cases of its misuse causing serious injury and even death among children nationwide.
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