As discussed previously, Wisconsin joined the majority of states in 2012, when it passed Act 125, restricting the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint on school children. This law serves to keep children safe from the harmful effects of inappropriate seclusion and restraint. However, in order for parents and citizens to understand whether or not the law is working in their local schools, the law also includes a reporting provision which requires that,
Annually by September 1, the principal of each school or his or her designee shall submit to the governing body a report containing all of the following:1. The number of incidents of seclusion and of physical restraint in the school during the previous school year.2. The total number of pupils who were involved in the incidents and the number of children with disabilities who were involved in the incidents.
- It enables school boards and administrators to monitor use of these aversive practices in each school and provide training and support as needed;
- It allows parents to have a better understanding of whether or not their children attend a school which avoids the use of seclusion and restraint, or uses these aversive practices frequently; and
- It provides parents useful information when they choose where to send their children to school under Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment law, or if they are contemplating moving to another school district.
Unfortunately, one of the compromises we made with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in order to obtain its support for passage of this legislation was that these seclusion and restraint reports are not provided to DPI. Therefore, they cannot be easily obtained on a statewide basis. Moreover, DPI has no way to determine whether school districts are complying with the law unless it receives a complaint.
Earlier this week, many Gannett newspapers in Wisconsin published a front page story exposing the lack of school district compliance with the reporting requirements of Act 125. For example, the Manitowoc School District reported 239 incidents of seclusion and restraint but failed to report such use by school building as required by law. Similarly, the Appleton School District reported 637 incidents of seclusion and restraint, 85% of which were on students with disabilities, but also failed to follow the simple requirement of reporting by school building.
The value of this reporting is critical as reporter Kathleen Foody described in her story,
In some districts, the seclusion and restraint information is already inspiring change.
In the Green Bay Area Public School District, Hispanic students were removed from classrooms or physically restrained more often than their classmates: Hispanic students accounted for 30 percentof all incidents last year but only 24.7 percent of the district’s total enrollment.
Claudia Henrickson, Green Bay’s executive director of special education, said the number of Hispanic students in the report subject to seclusion or restraint immediately caught her attention. Special education staff are participating in an internal training program to discuss the issue, she said.
There are now 3 major questions as implementation of Act 125 moves forward:
- Will DPI investigate the known violations of the reporting provision as recently revealed by the press?
- Will the legislature amend Act 125 to require that annual seclusion and restraint reports be submitted to DPI and posted on-line for easy access? and
- Will school districts use their own reports to ramp up their efforts to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint in their schools?
For our children’s sake, the answer to all 3 questions should be a resounding YES.