ONLINE PACKAGE: Restraint in the Shadows

After nearly of year of work, EdSource finally published a massive project looking into the lack of oversight and training in the use of restraint and seclusion in California special education classrooms.

This was a big project. The data was sparse in this area, and a new law made the tracking of these incidents more difficult. Through the reporting, it appeared that these incidents were generally ignored or didn’t receive the analytical attention it deserves, especially when the harm that could be caused to students and staff through implementing these techniques is high.

We were able to get some data on the number of behavioral emergency reports that were filed by Special Education Local Plan Areas, the entities that address special education in California. These reports detail incidents where staff needed to restrain students in order to ensure the safety of staff and students. However, it was unclear in our reporting whether more incidents meant better reporting of these incidents or more incidents in general. Reporting appeared to be sporadic, and some SELPAs, like Los Angeles Unified’s, seemed to have far fewer reports than it should given the district’s size.

Getting data on these incident reports was nearly impossible. So we decided to build a dataset by going through the reports themselves. It was a challenge to get these reports from SELPAs, as they often cited student privacy reasons for denying us access to this data.

Nevertheless, Jane Meredith Adams, Wendi Jonassen and I poured through about 700 behavioral emergency reports that we did obtain. From these reports, which were not uniform and had strong variations in what was reported, we built a dataset that attempted to classify how these incidents occurred and what types of action staff took when they did.

This lead to several data-driven pieces exploring the data, as well as two long reports on the underlying issues. It was an incredible project to undertake and, in the tradition of solutions-oriented journalism, we hope these reports will kickstart a conversation about these practices and take them from the shadows into the light.

You can read all of our reports here.