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Mississippi ACLU Aims to Reduce Schools' Use of Restraint, Seclusion

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The ACLU of Mississippi plans a two-year effort to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion as a means of school discipline in the state's schools, the organization announced.

The project, funded with a $350,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, "will engage of civic, community, corporate, and congregational leaders, promote public awareness, monitor use of restraint and seclusion in school districts and advocate for the implementation of positive behavior interventions and supports that are safe, effective, and evidence-based," a news release said.

The use of restraint and seclusion has been criticized by civil rights and student advocates around the country, in part because certain student groups are disproportionately disciplined through such measures. Federal civil rights data from the 2011-12 academic year shows that students with disabilities are much more likely to be subjected to seclusion and physical and mechanical restraint than other students.  While students who qualified for services under IDEA made up 12 percent of those enrolled in U.S. schools during 2011-12, they represented 75 percent of those who were physically restrained, the data show. In addition, black students with disabilities are subject to mechanical restraints at even higher rates than other students with disabilities.

According to the ACLU, Mississippi is one of five states that lack regulation, guidelines, or a statute dictating how such practices should be used.

"The lack of regulation has resulted in the use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children becoming common place among Mississippi schools despite the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness," Charles Irvin, legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi, said in the news release.

Federal information about Mississippi from the 2009-2010 school year, the most recent data available, showed 329 incidents of restraint and seclusion of disabled students in the state's schools, The Clarion-Ledger reports.

Members of the state's legislature tried unsuccessfully this year to pass the Mississippi Student Safety Act.

"Introduced by Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, the act would have prohibited certain punishments and defined when it's acceptable to use others," The Clarion-Ledger reports. "It also would have collected and analyzed data in an effort to reduce seclusion and restraint."

In May 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released a resource guide to help states and school districts create and update restraint and seclusion policies.

"As many reports have documented, the use of restraint and seclusion can have very serious consequences, including, most tragically, death," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a letter accompanying that release. "Furthermore, there continues to be no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective in reducing the occurrence of the problem behaviors that frequently precipitate the use of such techniques."

 

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