FLORIDA — The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has secured a settlement agreement with the Okaloosa County School District to resolve its investigation into allegations of physical and verbal abuse and discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint on students with disabilities, the DOJ has announced.
According to the DOJ, the department’s investigation concluded that the school district violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in its response to known physical and verbal abuse and improper seclusion and restraint of students with disabilities. The district secluded and restrained students before first attempting appropriate behavior-management or de-escalation strategies, the DOJ said.
“As a result of these practices, some students with disabilities were injured, and others lost many hours of class time. Under the settlement agreement, the Okaloosa County School District has voluntarily agreed to strengthen its complaint procedures and internal investigations, continue to prohibit seclusion, reform its restraint practices and improve its staff training,” the DOJ said in its statement.
“All children deserve an opportunity to learn and thrive in a safe and supportive environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“Schools must provide students with disabilities appropriate educational supports and cannot resort to practices that physically and mentally harm them. The Justice Department will vigorously pursue allegations of abuse and unlawful restraint and seclusion of students and will not stand by when their rights are infringed.”
“We stand with our colleagues in the Civil Rights Division in the fight to redress discrimination against students with disabilities in school,” said U.S. Attorney Jason R. Coody for the Northern District of Florida.
“We also commend the Okaloosa County School District for agreeing to remedy the problems brought to light by the department’s investigation by employing effective and non-discriminatory tools and protocols when handling behavioral matters in its schools.”
The district fully cooperated throughout the investigation, according to the DOJ.
Under the settlement agreement, the DOJ said the district will implement reforms to end discrimination against students with disabilities. The district will, among other steps:
- Continue to prohibit the use of seclusion
- Limit its use of restraint
- Clarify and improve crisis response team procedures and post-restraint procedures
- Report all instances of restraint and evaluate if they were justified
- Designate trained staff to collect and analyze restraint data and oversee the creation of appropriate behavior intervention plans
- Review procedures for students with disabilities who are restrained on the bus or who have behaviors that may manifest during transport
- Strengthen its multi-tiered systems and supports at all schools
- Reform district complaint procedures and improve internal district investigations into allegations of employee abuse or improper use of restraint or seclusion
- Strengthen practices related to employee hiring and transfers
- Deliver training and resources to help schools implement the agreement
- Designate an administrator to oversee the district’s related services (i.e., paraprofessionals, transportation and behavioral staff) and schools’ use and review of restraint, and to ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA