Use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children is common among Mississippi schools despite warnings by the nation’s education chief of the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness.
At least 30 school districts use physical restraint, mechanical restraint or seclusion — or a combination of all three — on children with disabilities, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
In the 2009-2010 school year, for which the most recent statistics were available, 329 such incidents were reported.
Districts that most frequently reported using restraint and seclusion are located on the Gulf Coast: Harrison County logged 74 incidents, Moss Point and Jackson County had 46 each, and Gulfport had 36.
The Jackson Public School District, which in 2011 was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center for chaining a teen with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to a pole, had two reported incidents that year.
JPS settled the suit one year later by agreeing to no longer engage in that practice.
“As many reports have documented, the use of restraint and seclusion can have very serious consequences, including, most tragically, death,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a letter to school districts urging them to review their policies on the practices.
“Furthermore,” Duncan said, “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.”
Mississippi is one of 13 states without a law addressing seclusion and restraint, according to the federal agency, but a bill introduced in January by state Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, seeks to change that.
The Mississippi Student Safety Act, or SB 2594, calls for standards that would prohibit certain punishments and define when it’s acceptable to use others.
It also would collect and analyze data from the districts in an effort to reduce seclusion and restraint.