By Associated Press - Thursday, December 31, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A southwestern Indiana school district has agreed to stop secluding and restraining students with disabilities, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

The agreement with the North Gibson School Corp. in Princeton follows the department’s investigation into a complaint that the district inappropriately secluded and restrained students with emotional and behavioral disabilities as young as 5 years old in so-called self-contained classrooms.

Self-contained classrooms were defined as those comprised only or primarily of students with disabilities where a special education teacher instructs all or nearly all academic subjects. They including “life skills” and “emotional disabilities” classrooms and similar classrooms in preschool, the agency said.

The seclusion and restraint resulted in days and sometimes weeks of lost instructional time, the department said.

“When school districts improperly seclude or restrain students with disabilities, they inflict grievous harm on some of America’s most vulnerable children,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “Students with emotional and behavioral disabilities need additional supports in the classroom, not practices that keep them out or subject them to isolation and trauma.”

Students with disabilities are guaranteed equal access to education under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dreiband said.

The school district cooperated fully throughout the investigation and voluntarily suspended its use of seclusion rooms before the investigation was completed, the department said.

Under the settlement, the district will, among other things: change its policies to prohibit use of seclusion rooms; report all instances of restraint and review whether they were justified; and take steps to avoid placing students with emotional and behavioral disabilities on an abbreviated school day or homebound instruction, the department said.

A phone message seeking comment was left with the district Thursday.

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