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ACLU Asks Ohio Department of Education to Extend Seclusion and Restraint Policy to Charter Schools

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Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Dan Machold / Flickr

The ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to the State Board of Education today asking them to include charter schools in the draft rules that will govern the use of seclusion and restraint in Ohio's schools.

The board passed a policy on seclusion and restraint in January, but that policy is non-binding, and it only applies to traditional public schools--not to charter schools.

Excluding charter schools from the seclusion and restraint policy was a "silly oversight," and one that she expects state officials to fix soon, lawyer Amy Borman told charter school operators and sponsors earlier this week at a conference in Columbus.

Borman advised charter schools to follow the state policy anyway.

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"This is an area of very high liability, so why would we not want to follow the state rule?" she asked. "We need to just do this without regard to whether the words 'community school' are in [the policy]."

(Under Ohio law, charter schools are formally known as "community schools.")

The board is scheduled to consider administrative rules aligned with the already approved policy at their March meeting.

Charter schools would be exempt from those rules under the current draft.

"Charter schools are public schools," says ACLU of Ohio Policy Director Shakyra Diaz. "We believe that all Ohio public school students need to have the same types of protections regarless of what type of school they attend. whether its a traditional publc school or a community school."

In the letter, the ACLU writes that more than 100,000 Ohio students attend one of the state's more than 350 charter schools. A handful of those charter schools have most special-education student populations, and are categorized as special education schools.

From the letter:

In order to protect the health, safety and education rights of community school students and for parental rights to be preserved pursuant to state and federal law, we suggest that ODE simply incorporate community schools into its definition of "school district" under section (A)(9), as it has done in other circumstances.

When the board was considering the seclusion and restraint policy in January, there was discussion of including charter schools, and whether or not that would require legislative action. Diaz says it doesn't need to be that complicated. The board could simply revise the rules to include charters, she says.

Diaz says the ACLU has not heard back from the board or the Ohio Department of Education, but "they do seem supportive of the idea."

The letter goes on to request the rules include "training for staff to reduce the incidence of racially disparate impact in the use of seclusion and restraint on students of color" and avoid involving law enforcement in student discipline issues. It also asks that a 15-minute time limit be put on how long a student can be secluded. In the current policy, schools are instructed to seclude students for the "minimum amount of time."

Diaz says that's not specific enough, since different teachers may define that "minimum amount of time" standard very differently.

"Everything needs to be defined," Diaz says, in order to help schools comply with the policy.

The ACLU had lobbied to ban the use of seclusion or restraint in the policy and rules, but Diaz says they acknowledge that would require a "cultural shift within a very huge system."

Still, she says the policy and rules are a step in the right direction.

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