Report: Vast majority of seclusion, physical restraint incidents in Wisconsin involve students with disabilities

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A new report out from Wisconsin public schools this week shows just how many students were secluded or physically restrained during the last school year.

This is the first year schools were required to submit that data to the state.

Nearly half of all Wisconsin schools reported at least one incident where either seclusion or physical restraint was used on a student during the 2019-2020 school year.

Students with disabilities, meaning students who could be in special education and have an "individualized education program," made up 82% of all seclusion incidents and 77% of all physical restraint incidents.

"We have not seen, obviously, a reduction when looking at this year’s data. It’s been consistent; we’ve got 18,000 incidents this year," Barbara Van Haren, assistant state superintendent at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said.

Van Haren said seclusion and physical restraint should only be used as a last-case resort during imminent danger.

"We have a number of initiatives at the state level that can be helpful, that includes our positive behavioral intervention support, it includes trauma-sensitive schools and a mental health framework for our districts to utilize," Van Haren said.

Now that the data is out, DPI is encouraging individual school districts to do their own analysis on how to improve the numbers.

"Wisconsin Family Ties" is a statewide, parent-run organization working with families that include children with social, emotional or behavioral challenges.

The organization’s executive director, Hugh Davis, released a statement in response to the report, saying in part, "It’s frustrating that there appears to be no improvement in how schools respond to students with disabilities who may have difficulty communicating their frustrations and fears in more appropriate ways. We have a long way to go in Wisconsin."