Cedar Rapids school district reaches settlement with DOJ over seclusion, restraints

By: - September 12, 2022 5:43 pm
Rear view of students sitting with hands raised in classroom

The U.S. Department of Justice has reached an agreement with the Cedar Rapids schools over its use of seclusion and restraints. (Photo by Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced Monday a settlement agreement with the Cedar Rapids Community School District over its use of seclusion and restraints in dealing with disabled students.

The department said its investigation concluded the school district had inappropriately and repeatedly secluded and restrained disabled students, some of whom were kindergarten-age, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The department concluded that instead of meeting the needs of students who have disabilities that affect their behavior, the school district subdued them through unnecessary restraints and improper confinement, placing them alone in small seclusion rooms, sometimes multiple times in one day and often for excessive periods of time.

As a result of these practices, some students lost hundreds of hours of instructional time. The investigation also found that the school district did not pull students out of seclusion when the students showed signs of crisis or trauma, or when there was no longer any threat of harm.

Under the settlement agreement, the Cedar Rapids Community School District has voluntarily agreed to end the use of seclusion, reform its restraint practices, and improve its staff training on anticipating, addressing and de-escalating students’ disability-related behavior through behavioral interventions.

“Students with disabilities should not be subjected to discriminatory and abusive seclusion and restraint practices that deny them equal access to education,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said Monday. “When schools isolate and unlawfully restrain children with disabilities, rather than provide them with the supports needed for success in the classroom, they violate the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our agreement puts the Cedar Rapids Community School District on a path to significant institutional change and reform.”

U.S. Attorney Timothy T. Duax for the Northern District of Iowa said his office, in partnership with the department’s Civil Rights Division, will “vigorously investigate” all allegations of discrimination on the basis of disability in all settings, including public schools.

The school district fully cooperated throughout the investigation, according to the DOJ. Under the settlement agreement, the district will end its use of seclusion and implement several reforms:

— Limit the use of restraints, revise its restraint procedures and practices, and consistently implement those procedures and practices.

— Report all instances of restraint use and then evaluate whether they were justified.

— Offer counseling and other services to students who are restrained.

— Adopt policies and procedures to assess suicide risk, prevent suicide and self-harm, and implement immediate crisis intervention for students who threaten or engage in self-harm.

— Hire two new administrators to oversee the district’s use of restraints and ensure the district’s compliance with the settlement agreement and ADA.

Cedar Rapids Community School District Superintendent Noreen Bush sent a letter Monday to families in the district, stating that beginning Oct. 10, the use of seclusion in all school buildings and programs will be discontinued and the district will start to “rethink how CRCSD staff members analyze and respond to student crisis behavior.”

Bush said the change is the result of the DOJ investigation that began two years ago, adding that the district looks forward to “the opportunity to engage in this work for the benefit of all CRCSD students.”

Bush has served as the district superintendent since 2019, and previously held the positions of deputy and associate superintendent.

In the past two years, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has reached similar agreements with the Frederick County Public School District in Maryland and the North Gibson School Corporation in Indiana.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.