Seclusion & Restraint: Behind The Numbers
- Category: Local News
- Published: 02 December 2019
The use of seclusion and restraint of students has come under scrutiny by states and the federal government following reports of injuries, emotional trauma and even death. According to Virginia code, seclusion is defined as the involuntary confinement of a student in a room from which they’re prevented from leaving, and restraint is holding a student to restrict movement.
In Virginia, the practices are legal. Some families and educators say the procedures are necessary to protect students and staff. Other parents and advocates say the methods are sometimes misused. For decades, many states including Virginia lacked regulations about when and how these procedures should be implemented.
In two recent school years, Virginia private schools serving students with disabilities reported nearly 10,000 total seclusions and more than 18,000 total restraints. In this four-part series by VPM and WHRV, we look into the two schools that reported the highest numbers of seclusions and restraints over the combined 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. We also examine Virginia’s policies and standards for data collection and staff training, as well as alternatives to seclusion and restraint developed by local educators.
Part 1: Richmond Private School Reported The Highest Number Of Seclusions. Staff Say They’re Not Sure When To Record Them.
Virginia private schools serving students with disabilities reported nearly 30,000 total seclusions and restraints across two recent school years. In this investigative series by VPM’s education reporter Megan Pauly in collaboration with WHRV's Gina Gambony, we look into the numbers.
Part 2: Chesapeake School Reported Significant Jump In Restraints; School Attributes Majority To One Student
Physical restraint is a long-used but often-debated method to contain aggressive behavior in students with disabilities.
The topic is particularly controversial when the numbers of restraints are high.
Read the full story.
Part 3: No Standards, Limited Oversight of Seclusion and Restraint Training Companies
For the past decade, Virginia’s Department of Education has been working on regulations for the practices.
However, there isn’t an effort to standardize training for teachers and staff who use these methods. Megan Pauly reports.
Read the full story.
Part 4: An Alternative To Seclusion And Restraint Was Born In Virginia, And It’s Spreading
In this series, we've been examining the use of seclusion and restraint in private Virginia schools that serve students with disabilities. As the state works on regulations to improve standards and documentation of these practices, some local groups have developed alternatives that are catching on here and in other states.
Read the full story.
The use of seclusion and restraint in schools has come under scrutiny in recent years by states and the federal government following reports of injuries, emotional trauma and even death. According to Virginia code, seclusion is defined as “the confinement of a student alone in a room from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.” Physical restraint is defined as “the use of approved physical interventions or ‘hands-on’ holds by trained staff to prevent a student from moving his body to engage in a behavior that places him or others at risk of physical harm.” The techniques are used to prevent serious injury to students and staff, when a student’s behavior escalates to harming themselves or others. But for decades, many states including Virginia lacked regulations governing the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.
Reporting for this series began after VPM obtained state data showing nearly 30,000 total instances of seclusions and restraints at private schools serving students with disabilities for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 combined school years. VPM and WHRV collaborated to examine two of the schools reporting the highest numbers: The Faison School in Richmond, which reported 5,617 of the total 9,949 seclusions reported by all other Virginia private schools serving students with disabilities, and Plan Bee Academy in Chesapeake, which reported 7,224 of the total 18,440 restraints reported by all Virginia private schools serving students with disabilities.
VPM’s Megan Pauly and WHRV’s Gina Gambony visited these schools to get a better understanding of the high numbers of seclusions and restraints. Reporting involved interviews with more than 30 people, including school staff, administrators, parents, advocates and state education experts.
During our reporting about the Faison School, the reporting team made numerous attempts to get sources to speak on the record. Current and former staff of Faison we spoke to communicated they feared retaliation if their identities were disclosed. We thoroughly questioned all anonymous sources during multiple interviews to confirm their identities and ensure credibility. We also corroborated their information with multiple additional sources before including it in our series. We have multiple layers of editorial and legal oversight to review this reporting.
VPM & WHRV also reviewed hundreds of pages of state compliance and corrective action reports received through public records requests. The reporting team initially requested copies of state compliance reports and complaints for all private day schools in Virginia serving students with disabilities over the past five years. However, the Virginia Department of Education said it would cost over $3,000 to fulfill that records request. The team then limited that request to the top several schools that reported the highest numbers of seclusion and restraint in recent years. The team also requested training materials for all of the schools from Virginia’s Department of Education, but VDOE said the materials do not exist within the department because the state does not require schools to submit these documents.
Following Faison, the top four Virginia private schools reporting seclusion in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years included Rivermont in Roanoke (663), Rivermont in Tidewater (380), Matthews Center for Visual Learning in Manassas (342) and Gateway Private School in Stafford (328). Following Plan Bee, the top four schools reporting restraint in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years included the Faison School in Richmond (1473), the Dooley School at St. Joseph’s Villa in Richmond (1405), Alternative Paths Training Center in Alexandria (690), and the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism at St. Joseph’s Villa in Richmond (623).
VPM reached out to 80 private day schools in Virginia to learn more about their data collection process, and how they’ve been training staff to seclude and restrain students. Most schools did not respond to questions submitted via email, or phone calls.
Meet the Team
Reporting: Gina Gambony and Megan Pauly
Editing: Catherine Komp, Rebecca Feldhaus Adams, Craig Carper, Sarah McCloskey
Illustrations: Crixell Matthews
Social Media: Grace Douglas, Angela Massino