Students with disabilities have long faced disproportionate rates of harsh disciplinary practices like physical or mechanical restraint and seclusion—often with disastrous results, including permanent injury and death. New data from the Civil Rights Data Collection released today by the US Department of Education shows that this disproportionality has sharply increased—a shocking and disappointing trend.
While the overall number of reported cases of restraint and seclusion has trended down, the percentage of students with disabilities subjected to these punishments has risen significantly. The 2015-2016 data set found that 71% of restrained students and 66% of secluded students had disabilities—in the new 2017-2018 data set, those numbers rise to 78% and 77% respectively. Given that approximately 13% of students in the United States have a disability, these statistics are alarming. In raw numbers, schools subjected students with disabilities to restraint or seclusion nearly 80,000 times in one year.
In the context of COVID-19, which has had an inordinate impact on students with disabilities, it is even more important to act to reverse disciplinary practices that perpetuate educational inequity. We urge Congress to take action to pass federal protections to eliminate these harsh and inhumane practices, and we urge districts and schools to turn away from these dangerous forms of punishment and instead to commit to holistic approaches to behavior. Our students deserve better.