116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The U.S. Department of Justice also visited 10 Cedar Rapids schools last month
CEDAR RAPIDS — Hundreds of records have been requested from the Cedar Rapids Community School District by the U.S. Department of Justice as a part of its ongoing review of the district’s policies, procedures and practices relating to the use of physical restraint and seclusion of students.
Justice Department staff conducted on-site visits to 10 Cedar Rapids schools the first week of November. Ahead of the visits, the department conducted remote interviews of a dozen administrators and requested hundreds of records.
The Gazette made an open records requests to the district seeking correspondence between it and the Justice Department since July 1. In these documents, Jonathan Newton, trial attorney for the Justice Department, described the interviews as “informal conversations to develop an understanding of the district’s seclusion and restraint procedures and practices.”
The following schools were visited last month: 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.
Seclusion rooms are used in many Iowa school districts as a last resort if students are at risk of harming themselves or others.
An investigation into the use of seclusion rooms in Cedar Rapids schools was launched in 2017 after a complaint was made on behalf of a student at Pierce Elementary. The student was held in a seclusion room because she wouldn’t stop crying, a violation of state seclusion rules.
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 would not disclose to The Gazette information showing why students were secluded and restrained.
Some of the documents recently requested by the Justice Department include:
- The number and percentage of students attending each school in the district, broken down by grade, race and ethnicity, sex and disability status.
- Every instance in which a district employee or contractor restrained or secluded a student, including the date and location, name of the student, school, grade, race and ethnicity, sex, disability status, types of disabilities of the student restrained or secluded, and the amount of time the student was restrained or secluded, and whether the employee restraining or secluding the student received training required by Iowa code.
- The date a parent or guardian was notified the student was restrained or subjected to seclusion, whether the parent or guardian was provided written documentation regarding the incident, and whether the parent or guardian authorized the use of seclusion or restraint in the student’s Individualized Education Program plan.
For each instance, the Justice Department asked for the name of the district employee or contractor who restrained or secluded the student during the 2020-21 school year and all documents related to the incident. The department also requested a list of all training sessions for district employees or contractors regarding restraint, seclusion, crisis prevention, crisis intervention, conflict de-escalation techniques, positive behavior interventions and supports, and disciplinary alternatives to seclusion and restraint, and whether the training was mandatory or voluntary.
Other records requested include information on special education programs, training materials and plans for each student who was restrained or subjected to seclusion between 2018 and 2021.
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