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U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Resolves Restraint and Seclusion Compliance Review of Denton Independent School District in Texas

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Today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that the Denton Independent School District in Texas has entered into a resolution agreement to ensure that its restraint policies and practices do not deny students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

OCR’s review identified a number of concerns with the district’s compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) and their implementing regulations with respect to district restraint practices.

In particular, OCR’s review revealed that students ultimately identified as students with disabilities were restrained multiple times before the district initiated an evaluation to determine whether the students may need special education or related aids and services. For example, the district restrained one student 18 times before conducting an evaluation that resulted in the district classifying the student as a student with a disability for whom appropriate supports could obviate a need for restraint. OCR also identified concerns with the frequency and duration of student restraints. For example, the district restrained at least 12 students 10 or more times per student and the district restrained one student 43 times; in another example the district restrained a student on two separate occasions for more than an hour each time. District documentation often did not indicate that the district considered the impact of the restraints on the student’s receipt of FAPE from the district.

OCR’s review also revealed that the district permitted School Resource Officers (SROs) to restrain students with disabilities without having been properly trained on student restraint in educational settings or on the district’s obligations regarding the provision of FAPE to students with disabilities and OCR also found that district staff lacked a consistent understanding of when it would be appropriate for an SRO to assist with student restraints. This inconsistency is reflected, for example, by SROs’ frequent involvement in restraints even in the absence of probable cause to believe a crime was being committed, contrary to the district’s stated position that SROs should only be involved in criminal matters.

OCR’s review revealed that the district’s documentation of restraint incidents contained significant gaps, hindering the district’s capacity to evaluate its satisfaction of its Section 504 and Title II obligations to its students. Many restraint forms provided by the district lacked clear identification of the staff members involved, start and end times of restraints, or the underlying behavior necessitating the restraint, which could hinder the district’s ability to consider this information in re-evaluating the students’ individual educational and behavioral needs. And district staff reported inconsistent understanding regarding whether and/or when a restraint by an SRO should be documented, raising concern about whether district records accurately reflect these restraints and allow for district evaluation of them.

Finally, OCR’s review revealed a concern that the district does not provide clear notice to parents/guardians of the individual(s) designated by the district to coordinate its efforts to comply with Section 504 and Title II, thereby hindering parents’ and guardians’ ability to request re-evaluations as necessary to ensure their children receive a FAPE.

The district did not report, and OCR’s investigation did not identify, any incidents of student seclusion.

The resolution agreement commits the district to taking the following actions:

  • Convening Section 504 and/or Admission Review and Dismissal (ARD) committees to re-evaluate the needs of students identified during the review who may have been denied a FAPE as a result of the district’s use of restraint and timely providing any compensatory services identified as necessary for identified students.
  • Reviewing and revising as necessary the district’s policies and procedures governing restraint, including the involvement of SROs in restraint incidents.
  • Developing a process for the creation, maintenance, and review of records documenting each incident of student restraint.
  • Developing a process to ensure accurate reporting of all restraint incidents to the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection.
  • Reviewing each incident of restraint in which an SRO was involved between 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years to assess the impact on individual students restrained and to inform the district’s policies and practices regarding SRO involvement in restraint incidents.
  • Reviewing the district’s policies regarding the involvement of SROs in restraint incidents, including revising Memoranda of Understanding and district policy as necessary to ensure all policies and agreements include clearly defined roles and areas of responsibility for SROs, including when staff may involve SROs in restraints and how such incidents should be documented.
  • Establishing an annual review process for SRO involvement in student restraints.
  • Establishing a monitoring program to monitor the use of restraint in students in all district schools to safeguard student rights under Section 504 and Title II.
  • Ensuring that all staff who may be involved in student restraints receive training regarding the use of restraint on students, including the district’s policies and procedures relating to the recording of all incidents of restraint.
  • Ensuring that all staff receive training regarding the District’s obligation to provide a FAPE to students with disabilities pursuant to Section 504 and Title II.
  • Offering training to all SROs contracted by the District to serve on District campuses regarding the District’s policies and procedures regarding restraint, including recordkeeping procedures, as well as the District’s nondiscrimination obligations pursuant to Section 504 and Title II.

“Through this agreement, Denton Independent School District has committed to important steps to ensure students with disabilities will not be denied their federal civil right to a free and appropriate public education because of the district’s use of restraint,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “The district’s commitments to ensure that school resource officers contracted by the district are aware of their obligations to students with disabilities, improve recordkeeping to evaluate district fulfillment of student rights as well as staff training to protect these rights, and to make whole students who have been harmed by past restraint practices reflect appropriate leadership to address this crucial, and sometimes life-or-death, issue.”

The letter to Denton Independent School District and the resolution agreement are available on the OCR website.

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