By Mark Thiessen
Associated Press 

Anchorage schools agree to strict standards for restraining students


February 22, 2023 | View PDF

Alaska’s largest school district repeatedly and inappropriately secluded and restrained students with disabilities, the U.S. Department of Justice said last Thursday following an investigation into alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to an agreement reached between the Justice Department and Anchorage schools, the district will eliminate the use of seclusion at all schools and ensure that students are only restrained when there is imminent danger of “serious physical harm to the student to another person.”

“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,” a statement from the Justice Department said. “Rather, the district used restraint and seclusion to address noncompliant student behavior, resulting in students missing large amounts of instructional time.”

It also found that some students who were put into seclusion harmed themselves and some expressed suicidal thoughts.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said.

The agreement, signed by the department and Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt will ensure the district adheres to “policies that are equity-focused, child-centered and trauma-informed,” Clarke said.

The department said the Anchorage School District fully cooperated with the investigation, which began in November 2020, and began to reevaluate its practices before the investigation was completed. Bryantt became district superintendent last summer.

Under terms of the agreement, the district will eliminate the use of seclusion at all district schools beginning with the 2023-2024 school year.

It will ensure that students are restrained only if the student’s behaviors poses an imminent threat to themselves or other students. All such incidents involving restraints will be documented.

The agreement also calls for management plans in classrooms serving students with disabilities that discourages the use of restraint. Instead, staff will reinforce positive behavior and use appropriate de-escalation techniques.

Students who have been repeatedly secluded will be provided counseling and the opportunity to make up for lost classroom time, and parents will be informed of their rights to file a complaint with the district over the use of restraint and seclusion.

The Wrangell School District’s policy on restraint and seclusion is explicit: “The use of physical restraint and seclusion is prohibited except in emergency situations” as described in the policy in detail.

“Restraint may be administered only by staff trained in crisis intervention, de-escalation, and safe restraint, unless a trained person is not immediately available and the circumstances are rare and present an unavoidable and unforeseen emergency.”

The policy also states that “seclusion of a student is prohibited unless the student’s behavior poses an imminent danger of physical injury to the student or others and less restrictive interventions would be ineffective at stopping the imminent danger.”

The Sentinel contributed to the reporting for this story.


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