A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirms what education officials have suspected for a while: Schools aren't doing a very good job of reporting restraint and isolation of students with disabilities.
The report says the Department of Education should "take steps to address underreporting."
"Failure to do so will result in data that continues to provide an incomplete picture of the prevalence of restraint and seclusion," says the report, released June 18.
This is an issue we referenced in a news story this week about Spokane Public Schools' "overuse" of isolation, in the words of the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Spokane reports a much higher number of restraints and isolations than any other district in the state — more than 2,700 restraints and 3,208 isolations, compared to a combined total of less than 1,000 in Seattle Public Schools in 2017-18. But while Spokane's data isn't necessarily the most reliable, OSPI also suspects restraint and isolation in other school districts may be underreported.
The GAO report was conducted at the directive of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R - Washington). In response to the findings, she wrote on Twitter that there "clearly" is a problem.
"Parents also must be notified when this occurs; and educators should be provided training and resources to properly care for every student," she says.
According to the report's analysis of data, 70 percent of school districts nationally reported zero incidents of restraint and zero incidents of seclusion in 2015-16 — even though in many districts it's highly unlikely that zero incidents actually occurred. Washington state was slightly above the national average, with 72 percent of school districts reporting zero incidents. In Idaho, it's 85 percent of schools.
"A fundamental first step toward improving the quality of the restraint and seclusion data is to assure that when school districts report zero incidents it truly means there were no incidents, and to accurately distinguish districts with no incidents from districts that do not track or collect the data.
To read, the full report, click here.