Fargo Schools to undergo federal review for seclusion and restraint policies

Published: Mar. 29, 2019 at 6:46 PM CDT
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"She was inside the seclusion room, hiding underneath a chair with her pants off because they didn't let her use the restroom and she urinated on her pants,” said Amber Scott, who was reading a Fargo parent’s testimony on July 10, 2018.

"You have somebody laying on top of him - what if he stops breathing? He dies. I wouldn't have gotten a phone call from him. I would've gotten a call from the school saying your son is dead,” Victoria Johnson said during a July, 24, 2018 interview.

“This has been a history of abuse and a history of what they've done to kids and gotten away with it,” said Terry Hamilton, talking about Fargo Public School’s treatment of his son on Nov. 26, 2018.

I’ve been sharing parents’ voices as they tell their stories of seclusion and restraint within Fargo Public Schools, and now - there’s a new voice in the conversation.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is looking into the district’s use of seclusion and restraint.

In a statement, the school district says:

“In January, the U.S. Department of Education announced an initiative to address the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in schools. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is overseeing the initiative through three components, one of which is conducting compliance reviews on schools’ use of restraint and seclusion on children with disabilities.

OCR’s regional offices selected a district in each state for a compliance review. Fargo Public Schools (FPS) was selected for the state of North Dakota. The selection does not mean that FPS has violated any laws or conducts any inappropriate practices. OCR has requested two years of data on restraint and seclusion in the Fargo Public Schools. FPS is currently working to compile the data being requested by OCR to review. OCR has informed the Fargo Public Schools the compliance review may take up to one year to complete with a possible end outcome of required trainings for our staff members.

The Fargo Public Schools, U.S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights all share the common goal of students receiving a free and appropriate public education. FPS welcomes the opportunity to review processes and procedures for our own continuous improvement, and looks forward to partnering with OCR on this compliance review.”

And the school district is not the only one supporting the review.

“This, I think, was a really great step in the right direction for everyone,” says Samantha Stewart, a Parent Advocate with North Dakota for Integration and Inclusion.

“The compliance review is important because of what it can bring to the district, and to the students, and to our community,” says Brenda Ruehl, a Disabilities Advocate with the Protection & Advocacy Project. “We see children who have been seriously injured. We see children who have died. And we don’t want that, no one ever wants that. And by looking at where we are right now, and building in new strategies and new solutions and best practice – we can avoid that.”

Fargo Public Schools says the compliance review may take up to one year to complete, with more staff training as a possible end outcome.

“That’s really all we want. We want someone to look at it and we want someone to help us find a solution,” Stewart says. “It didn’t get like this overnight, so it won’t be resolved overnight either.”

“There are some really good teachers who use great strategies and we just need to expand those across the entire district so that seclusion and restraint is not an option,” says Ruehl. “Most importantly, we can stop putting children in harm’s way.”

With the thought of new strategies and new training, local community members say they hope there will be end to stories like these.

"He didn't want to be at school. It wasn't a safe, fun place for him," said Ashly Hafdahl back on Nov. 30, 2018, after her son was secluded and restrained.

"She opened the door and found my son curled up in a fetal position - wailing like a wounded animal,” said David Roberts, while reading a Fargo parent’s testimony during a July 10, 2018 Fargo School Board Meeting.

Valley News Live reached out to the Fargo School Board for a comment, but did not hear back.

The district is required to send its seclusion and restraint data to the OCR by April 5, 2019. Parents are being encouraged to send in their own testimonies, so the OCR has data that may or may not have been documented in the district.

“The concerns parents have shared with me is they want to make sure it’s a big enough snapshot to really show that it is a really serious problem in Fargo Public Schools,” says Ruehl. “If parents want to make sure that their information is included – we’ll be working with the parents to help them to get their information to the Office of Civil Rights.”

You can reach Brenda Ruehl, with the Protection and Advocacy Project, at (701) 239-7223.

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