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Disability Organizations Release Report: Seeking Solutions to End Harmful Seclusion & Restraint

A new report issued today by Disability Rights Wisconsin, Wisconsin Family Ties, and WI FACETS, shows that Wisconsin children continue to be frequently subjected to controversial seclusion and restraint practices in Wisconsin’s public schools, despite the passage of a law intended to reduce such measures. Families and advocates are speaking out about the harmful emotional and physical consequences of seclusion and restraint on children.

The report, called Seclusion & Restraint in Wisconsin Public School Districts 2013-2014: Miles to Go and available here, is based on open records requests to special education directors statewide, collecting the data they were required to report to their school boards following the 2012 passage of Wisconsin Act 125, which established crucial regulations on public-school use of seclusion and restraint.

The 2016 report details how families continue to report instances in which children, even those as young as five, are being secluded and restrained repeatedly, sometimes daily. The report gives data from each Wisconsin school district that responded to the records request, showing a total of 20,131 incidents of seclusion and restraint in the 2013/14 school year, involving 3,585 students overall, 80% of whom were students with disabilities.

“This continues to be a serious issue. We work with families whose children have suffered emotional and physical injury due to seclusion and restraint,” says Monica Murphy, managing attorney at Disability Rights Wisconsin. “While the passage of Act 125 was a good step, the data is still disturbing.”

The report highlights great discrepancy in how districts across the state report their data; continued confusion on the definitions of seclusion and restraint; significant concerns regarding the role of law enforcement officers in restraining students; and a lack of parent notification when these practices are occurring.

“When I found out, I wanted to die,” said Amy Puccio, whose 8-year-old son was repeatedly secluded and restrained at his urban elementary school. The report outlines how her son was carried or dragged down a hallway as he struggled not to be taken to the school’s seclusion room. “I would be told that my son had ‘episodes’ but not that he was being restrained or put in seclusion. It took an advocate from outside the school to inform me that there was even a report I could see.”

“Act 125 limits the use of seclusion and restraint to situations in which there is an immediate risk to physical safety, and the intervention is the least restrictive one possible,” says Jan Serak, CEO of WI FACETS. “It is concerning that schools continue to struggle to understand this law.”

“It’s clear that there’s room for a great deal of improvement, both in reporting and reducing the use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin’s schools,” said Hugh Davis, executive director at Wisconsin Family Ties. “Two years of data show us the law deserves a second look.”

This is the second year Disability Rights Wisconsin, Wisconsin Family Ties, and WI FACETS – the state’s leading advocacy organizations for students with disabilities –have collaborated to collect seclusion and restraint data. They conclude their report with recommendations to update the state’s seclusion and restraint law immediately in several areas, including statewide reporting, enhancing parent reporting requirements and including law enforcement officers as “covered individuals” under the law.

You can find more information about the state’s seclusion and restraint law here:
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (2015). 2011 Act 125 Seclusion and Restraint Frequently Asked Questions. DPI FAQ.

• Disability Rights Wisconsin is a statewide private nonprofit organization that is part of a national system of federally mandated independent disability agencies.
• Wisconsin Family Ties, Wisconsin’s family voice for children’s mental health, is a parent-run nonprofit serving families that include children with social, emotional or behavioral challenges.
• WI FACETS is Wisconsin’s U.S. Dept. of Education/Office of Special Education Programs-funded Parent Training and Information Center serving families of children and youth with disabilities statewide.