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New Data Shows Widespread Use of Seclusion, Restraint In Private Virginia Schools

Alex Campbell (far left) is pictured outside his Powhatan County home with father Sean, mother Kelly and brother Jack.
Alex Campbell (far left) is pictured outside his Powhatan County home with father Sean, mother Kelly and brother Jack.

Data obtained by WCVE shows private day schools that serve Virginia students with disabilities secluded and restrained students 28,458 times over the past two school years.

That includes close to 10,000 instances of seclusion: 4,725 in the 2016-2017 school year, and 5,261 in the 2017-2018 school year. The data wasn’t broken down by school or district.

“I think the incident number is much higher,” said Sean Campbell, who filed a public records request with the Virginia Department of Education to obtain the data last month. His son Alex has autism, and  has been subject to seclusion and restraint in private day placements in Virginia.

There were 12,815 instances of restraint reported in the 2017-2018 school year, more than double reported the year before that.

“Is it because we’re using restraint more, or is it because they’re actually reporting it more?” Campbell said.

Previously, the department hadn’t been collecting the data. When Campbell initially requested it, he was told it wasn’t available.

The department said they were waiting until proposed regulations about the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools were final so they align data collection for both public and private schools. That process is still underway.

But Campbell continued to press the department for the data, citing  a section of the state codefrom 2015 that “schools shall collect and annually report” the data to the department.

Ultimately, Campbell contacted Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. A spokesperson for the department told WCVE that Lane instructed department staff to call all of the private day schools in the state to get data about seclusion and restraint in response to Campbell’s request. The numbers were released to Campbell Wednesday.

“Typically that’s not how we collect data,” said Charles Pyle, Director of Media Relations for Virginia’s Department of Education. “Typically we do that in a much more sophisticated format.”

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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