The Justice Department announced today a settlement agreement with the Anchorage School District in Anchorage, Alaska, to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities. The settlement, which resolves the department’s investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), will protect students with disabilities by eliminating seclusion and prohibiting discriminatory restraints.
The department’s investigation concluded that the district repeatedly and inappropriately secluded and restrained students with disabilities in violation of Title II. Despite state law and the district’s own policy, and contrary to generally accepted practice, the district did not limit its use of restraint and seclusion to emergency situations. Rather, the district used restraint and seclusion to address noncompliant student behavior, resulting in students missing large amounts of instructional time. Additionally, some students subjected to seclusion engaged in self-harm and expressed suicidal ideation.
“When schools use seclusion and improper restraints as the default method of managing the behavior of students with disabilities, they violate the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement will help safeguard the civil rights of students with disabilities and ensure that the district adheres to policies that are equity-focused, child-centered and trauma-informed. The Civil Rights Division will continue to vigorously investigate allegations of discrimination on the basis of disability in public schools and focus on the practice of seclusion. In districts across the country, we have seen seclusion used against students with disabilities as an improper crisis response and in ways that escalate student behavior and can lead to self-harm.”
The district fully cooperated throughout the investigation, and before the investigation was completed began to re-evaluate its practices. Under the agreement, the district will, among other steps:
- Eliminate the use of seclusion at all district schools before the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year;
- Ensure students are only restrained when their behavior poses an imminent danger of serious physical harm to the student or another person, and properly document all restraints;
- Provide students who are restrained or secluded with required interventions and supports to prevent future incidents requiring such an emergency response;
- Create classroom management plans for specialized programs serving students with disabilities that will promote and reinforce positive behaviors and guide staff in employing appropriate de-escalation techniques, thereby discouraging the use of restraint;
- Ensure parents/guardians are aware they can file a complaint with the district regarding the use of restraint and seclusion;
- Deliver appropriate training to help schools implement the agreement;
- Provide counseling and compensatory education to students who were repeatedly secluded; and
- Appoint an administrator to monitor the district’s restraint practices (and seclusion until that practice is prohibited) to ensure compliance with this agreement and assist district staff in providing required interventions and supports.
Enforcement of Title II of the ADA is a priority of the Civil Rights Division. This agreement is the most recent in a series of division settlements to address and prevent unlawful seclusion and restraint of students with disabilities in public schools. On Dec. 20, 2022, for example, the division reached a settlement with the Okaloosa County School District in Florida to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities. The division reached similar agreements in September 2022 with the Cedar Rapids Community School District in Iowa, in December 2021 with the Frederick Public School District in Maryland and in December 2020 with the North Gibson School Corporation in Indiana.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt, and additional information about the Educational Opportunities Section’s work is available at https://www.justice.gov/crt/educational-opportunities-section. To learn more about the section’s work under the ADA to combat improper seclusion in schools, visit this website: https://www.justice.gov/schoolseclusion.
Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at www.civilrights.justice.gov/.