JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Statistics reveal hundreds of Missouri school districts may not be reporting how often staff is restraining or isolating students, something they’re required to do under the law.
Tracey Bloch is the Director of Legislative Advocacy for Missouri Disability Empowerment. She has pushed lawmakers to do more when it comes to how and when schools physically restrain or isolate kids with disabilities. It’s personal for her, though.
“I have a child who also has special needs and has been in situations where he had to be restrained by a trained professional in the building, who has a relationship with him,” Bloch said.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reports 1,835 students were physically restrained 6,385 different times, so far in the 2022-2023 school year. The state reports 775 students have been secluded, which means involuntary confinement, 5.092 times.
“We know a lot of the times it’s disproportionate to students of color and minorities and also students with disabilities,” Bloch said.
It’s what’s crunched between the state’s logo and data which shines a light on how many school districts have reported at least one incident.
As of the March 2023 report, 191 school districts have reported having at least one student physically restrained or isolated out of Missouri’s 556 public school districts and charter schools. That’s only 34%.
Boche calls the figures concerning because she knows hundreds of schools are not reporting their numbers when they should be.
“You hit a point where it’s no longer acceptable,” Boche said. “That’s the district’s job, is to inform you.”
St. Rep. Ian Mackey (D-District 99) got legislation passed in 2021 that cracked down on when and how schools use seclusion and restraint techniques.
The law requires schools to document when it’s used and then send a copy of each incident report to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education within 30 days.
“We pass statutes that tells schools you shall do this, or you shall not do that, but there’s really no enforcement mechanism out there,” Mackey said.
Advocates believe many schools are not reporting numbers to the state.
Mackey makes it clear, though, his priority is getting the data, identifying what’s working and what’s not, then learn from schools that are de-escalating in the classroom.
“We have some school districts that don’t really have a large student population but are contributing to a large number of these instances,” Mackey said.
Boche call it concerning and said the state should make an extra push for schools to follow the rules because she knows what’s at stake.
“There’s a little grace that we will give, it is a new law,” she said.
To view what schools have sent incident reports to the state as of January 2023, click here.