Illinois schools don't just lock special ed kids in solitary, they also restrain them

Last month, Propublica published a characteristically blockbuster piece on the use of "quiet rooms" in Illinois schools, especially in special ed programs: these are a euphemism for solitary confinement, and their use is so cruel and grotesque that Propublica's reporting prompted state level action to ban quiet rooms in schools and reform the policy on their use.

It's predictable, I suppose, that schools that would subject young children to this kind of cruelty wouldn't stop there.

Illinois teachers and other educational personnel are trained in "restraint" — that is pinning them down, putting them in painful compliance holds, etc. Teachers are only supposed to use this techniques to address urgent safety issues, but Propublica found that a quarter of the time, students are restrained for no documented safety reason.

Students in restraint aren't just tackled — they might be held, pinned to the ground, for half an hour or longer until they stop trying to move. In at least two dozen incidents, this resulted in injuries to children that were so severe that an ambulance was summoned. (Propublica only audited records related to a subset of schools, so these problems might be more widespread than is documented — these incidents are not closely tracked by the state or individual school districts).

The students who were put in restraint without a safety reason were instead punished for infractions like running in the hallway, doing headstands. Students who had medical conditions that made it unsafe to restrain them were nevertheless subjected to restraint.

Teachers say that even though they are trained in de-escalation, they frequently find that their colleagues lose patience with these techniques and jump quickly to tackling and pinning children.

Restraints that can obstruct breathing, including prone restraints, are prohibited in 31 states for all children and in a handful more just for students with disabilities. Last month, three California school workers were charged with involuntary manslaughter after the death of a student with autism who had been restrained prone.

Reporters' analysis of school records found that "floor restraints" — both prone and supine — were used in about two dozen of the 100 districts analyzed. Together, districts used these restraints nearly 1,800 times in the 15-month period examined.

Thirteen-hundred of those floor restraints were in the prone position, and three districts accounted for the majority of those incidents. A.E.R.O. used prone restraint 530 times in 15 months; the Southwest Cook County Cooperative Association for Special Education, more than 300 times. Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 logged more than 200 prone restraints.

Schools Aren't Supposed to Forcibly Restrain Children as Punishment. In Illinois, It Happened Repeatedly [Jennifer Smith Richards, Jodi S. Cohen and Lakeidra Chavis/Propublica]