Staff Editorial

Accurate seclusion data key to thoughtful public debate

This 2016 file photo shows a seclusion room that was used in an Eastern Iowa elementary school. (The Gazette)
This 2016 file photo shows a seclusion room that was used in an Eastern Iowa elementary school. (The Gazette)

If school districts have a legitimate need to restrain or isolate students, accurate data shouldn’t be an issue.

Yet many districts haven’t been forthcoming about the number of times school children are held in seclusion rooms or placed in restraining holds.

We support a decision by U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to push the Office of Inspector General to investigate misreporting of seclusion room and restraint use in public schools. Their call came in response to several years of misreporting by the Cedar Rapids Community School District, which the Iowa Republicans say is indicative of a national, systemic problem.

The letter notes records kept by the Cedar Rapids district detail 1,400 incidents of seclusion and restraint during the 2012 and 2013 school years. None of those incidents were reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

Incidents in the following two school years were also misreported, according to a letter the senators sent to the inspector general within the U.S. Department of Education.

These specific discrepancies are already under investigation by the education department’s office of civil rights, also at the urging of Grassley and Ernst, but the senators now want the government to address the issue as a widespread problem.

“Given the impact of such matters on children in the classroom, and in particular, children with disabilities, we request that OIG performs is own investigation of erroneous reporting of restraint and seclusion, as this appears to be a systemic problem,” the lawmakers wrote.

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School districts say use of such tools are limited and employed primarily to prevent a student from harm of self or others.

But parents and civil rights advocates question whether seclusion is used appropriately.

A state board is revisiting guidelines and expected to offer recommendations before start of the next school year. The action followed a 2016 Gazette investigation that at least two children were isolated for non-violent behavior.

Whether isolation and restraint is a manageable tool that school districts need and should employ is a debate our state and nation must have. Thoughtful discussion, especially on sensitive issues such as this, hinges on accurate data.

Step one is a clear view, and we’re glad to see Iowa’s senators fighting for it.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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