School Policies Under Review After Federal Probe

BERLIN – Following a lawsuit in Frederick County, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) is taking active measures to prevent illegal and excessive use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a settlement agreement with Frederick County Public Schools to address the discriminatory use of restraint and seclusion practices against students with disabilities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. MSDE is now reviewing policies throughout the state.

“The findings from the U.S. Department of Justice are appalling and unacceptable,” said State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury in a news release. “MSDE will not tolerate any discriminatory or illegal action against any student. MSDE is reviewing its regulations, policies, and monitoring processes to ensure that no local school system illegally restrains or secludes any student. In all cases, restraint and seclusion should be a last resort, employed only in emergency circumstances. Given the potentially devastating physical and emotional impact of restraint and seclusion on students and staff, as well the disproportionate use on students with disabilities and students of color, MSDE will work with our local school systems to eliminate the illegal use of these practices and increase system capacity to provide effective, positive means of behavior management.”

Choudhury said the settlement agreement in Frederick should serve as a reminder to local boards that concerns should be taken seriously and that the illegal use of restraint and seclusion would not be tolerated.

Locally, officials said Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) had a policy that was adopted in accordance with the Code of Maryland Regulations.

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“WCPS does not use seclusion unless it is an emergency situation,” said Carrie Sterrs, the school system’s coordinator of public relations and special programs. “Restraint is only used if it is indicated in a student’s behavior intervention plan, which is a part of their individualized education program (IEP), and even then, it is used only as a last resort.”

MSDE urges students and families concerned about the use of restraint and seclusion to reach out to their local boards of education and MSDE for support. Parents of students with disabilities who believe that their student has been illegally restrained or secluded may file a formal State Special Education Complaint with the MSDE’s Division of Early Intervention and Special Education Services.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.