U.S. Department of Ed to increase oversight of student seclusion and restraint

Published: Jan. 29, 2019 at 5:21 PM CST
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Following an I9 investigation, the U.S. Department of Education has now issued new guidelines around schools using seclusion rooms.

It is legal for schools to use seclusion rooms to isolate students having a violent outburst but our investigation found some eastern Iowa school districts over using or under reporting how often those rooms are used.

After our investigation, Iowa Republican Senators Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley pressed the U.S. Department of Education to investigate if more oversight was needed. I9 has learned federal regulators are doing just that.

Waterloo Schools Director of Special Education Ivan Gentry welcomes the new monitoring of restraint and seclusion.

"We're looking at this as if this is another layer of assistance for us and support so we can keep getting better," said Gentry.

In our original I9 investigation, we found Iowa City and Cedar Rapids schools misusing seclusion and restraint. Both districts say they have taken steps to fix that.

I9 also found the Cedar Rapids School District falsely told the federal government it was not using restraint and seclusion, when it actually used it hundreds of times each school year. The district says it now has steps in place to report the correct numbers.

Under the new plan, the U.S. Department of Education will conduct compliance checks to make sure districts are reporting the right data and offering training. Gentry says Waterloo Schools already does take those steps locally.

"On a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, we go through every restraint and confinement incident," said Gentry.

In a statement to KCRG-TV9, Senator Ernst called misreporting seclusion use in schools a "systemic problem".

"I'm hopeful this initiative will create transparency, and most importantly, ensure safety for students in Iowa, and across the country," Ersnt went on to say in the statement.

For Waterloo Schools, Gentry says that also fits their goal of having fewer instances of restraint and seclusion.

"I think if we can continue to find ways where we don't need to go hands on with students and we can continue to find ways to prevent things from happening that is always our goal," said Gentry.

Iowa City Schools sent I9 the following statement concerning the additional oversight from the U.S. Department of Education:

"The Iowa City Community School District is fully committed to providing the highest quality educational experience for all students, and ensuring access to a free and appropriate public education for our students with disabilities. Since the USDE's new initiative is intended to support school districts with providing enhanced services that will improve outcomes for students, the direction of this initiative is consistent with our District’s direction. We welcome any support the USDE can provide which would allow us to continue to further our vision of improving outcomes for students."

I9 also reached out to the Cedar Rapids Community School District for comment but we are yet to get a response.