116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Community School District will stop the use of seclusion in all school buildings and programs beginning Oct. 10, as a part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The district also will be making significant changes to limit the use of physical restraint and rethink how student behavior is analyzed and responded to, according to a news release from the district Monday.
“I’m proud of the hard work our staff have already done before and throughout this investigation,” Superintendent Noreen Bush said in a news release Monday. “CRCSD welcomes the opportunity to continue to improve our practice to support our students.”
Seclusion rooms are used in many Iowa school districts as a last resort if students are at risk of harming themselves or others.
Cedar Rapids elementary school students were held in seclusion rooms or physically restrained 237 times in the first month of the 2019-20 school year, The Gazette reported in 2020. This was more than 10 times a day and more than four times as much as in the first month of the 2015-16 school year.
At the time, the district did not disclose information showing why students were secluded and restrained.
The settlement agreement will address the “discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities,” according to a news release Monday from the Department of Justice.
The department’s investigation found that the school district inappropriately and repeatedly secluded and restrained students with disabilities as early as kindergarten in violation of Title II — which prohibits discrimination based on disability — of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The department concluded that instead of meeting the needs of students with disabilities that affect their behavior, the school district subdued them through unnecessary restraints and improper confinement alone in small seclusion rooms, sometimes multiple times in one day and often for excessive periods of time. As a result of these practices, some students lost hundreds of hours of instructional time.
The investigation also found that the school district did not end seclusion where students showed signs of crisis or trauma, or when there was no longer any threat of harm.
“Students with disabilities should not be subjected to discriminatory and abusive seclusion and restraint practices that deny them equal access to education,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a news release Monday. “When schools isolate and unlawfully restrain children with disabilities, rather than provide them with the supports needed for success in the classroom, they violate the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Our agreement puts the Cedar Rapids Community School District on a path to significant institutional change and reform,” Clarke said. “We will continue working to ensure that school districts across the country are taking all steps needed to provide every student access to a safe and supportive learning environment.”
“Each and every child deserves an equal opportunity to learn and thrive,” U.S. Attorney Timothy T. Duax for the Northern District of Iowa said in a news release Monday. “Our office, in partnership with the department’s Civil Rights Division, will vigorously investigate allegations of discrimination on the basis of disability in all settings, including in our public schools. I am heartened by the district’s commitment to this landmark agreement, which will undoubtedly improve the education and everyday lives of many students in our community.”
The district will begin work to make changes to limit the use of physical restraint and rethink how district staff analyze and respond to student crisis behavior within the school setting, Bush said in an email to families Monday.
The Department of Justice has not identified to the school district any specific incident, complaint, child, or school as being the source of the ongoing review that began in October 2020, according to a district news release.
The review encompassed a collection of more than 10,000 documents, numerous interviews of district and building-level administrators and staff, and site visits to several district schools.
The district has worked collaboratively with the Department of Justice throughout the review, Bush said.
Under the settlement agreement, the school district will implement reforms needed to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities. The district will, among other steps:
- End its use of seclusion.
- Limit its use of restraints, revise its restraint procedures and practices, and consistently implement those procedures and practices in all schools.
- Report all instances of restraint and evaluate if they were justified.
- Offer counseling and other services to students who are restrained.
- Adopt policies and procedures to assess suicide risk, prevent suicide and self-harm, and implement immediate crisis intervention for students who threaten or engage in self-harm.
- Designate trained staff to collect and analyze restraint data and oversee the creation of appropriate behavior intervention plans.
- Deliver appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement.
- Hire two new administrators to oversee schools’ use of restraint, if any, and ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA.
The investigation began in October 2020. In the fall of 2021, the Department of Justice conducted on-site visits to 10 Cedar Rapids schools as a part of the ongoing review of the district’s policies, procedures and practices relating to the use of physical restraint and seclusion.
The Department of Justice visited the following schools: Arthur Elementary, Grant Wood Elementary, Harrison Connections, Jefferson High, Johnson STEAM Academy, Pierce Elementary, Polk Alternative Education Center, Taylor Elementary, Viola Gibson Elementary and Wilson Middle School.
Comments: (319) 398-8411; firstname.lastname@example.org