Education News

Report: Texas Schools Still Forcibly Restrain Students Too Often

The advocacy group Disability Rights Texas examined statewide data and found that students with disabilities and Black students are physically restrained by educators at disproportionately high rates.

Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Republicans want to create vouchers, to help families with special needs kids pay for private school.
Advocates say that some Texas schools are still relying on emergency, physical restraints for students in non-emergency situations.

In Texas, when a student is deemed a threat to themselves or others at school, a teacher or staff member has to intervene and forcibly restrain them — physical restraints that are only supposed to be used in an emergency, according to federal guidelines, and by staff members whov’e been trained.

But some Texas schools are still forcibly restraining students at high rates, according to a new report from Disability Rights Texas.

The advocacy group examined statewide data and found that students with disabilities experience 91% of all restraints, even though they make up just under 10% of all Texas students. Many of those children have been diagnosed with austim or a disability related to an emotional disturbance like anxiety.

“When we talk about the population of special education who are enduring restraints, we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable children in the state,” said Dustin Rynders, a supervising attorney with Disability Rights Texas. “And so asking schools and the (Texas Education Agency) and the legislature to pay attention to their unique needs and and protect them from injury should be should be a top priority.”

The report also found that Black students were also restrained at disproportionately high rates. They make up about 12% of the state's student population, but experience 26% of all restraints statewide, and in some districts an even greater percentage.

Another troubling finding from the report is the very low rates of restraints reported by the state’s largest school districts: Houston, Dallas, Cy-Fair and Northside — a sign that the data likely isn’t accurate, rather than indicating the district is preventing those restraints, Rynders said. In HISD, for example, out of more than 200,000 students, the district reported 38 instances of physical restraints to the TEA

In 2019, a federal watchdog found that two-thirds of Texas school districts reported zero instances of students being restrained or secluded in the 2015-16 school year. The low numbers raised serious questions about how valid the reporting was, even though it’s required by the state.

The TEA can do more to validate that data is valid, if reporting rates are extremely low or if some students are experiencing a high rate of restraints, Rynders said.

Other action Disability Rights Texas is urging:

  • More training for school staff.
  • More state monitoring.
  • A ban on the most dangerous kinds of restraints, where school staff take students down to the ground.

Currently, Texas law requires school districts to train at least a few people on each campus, who they expect are most likely to need to use the practice. But records show that often people who aren’t trained end up restraining a student.

And that, Rynders said, can be difficult for staff members and leave children traumatized, or worse.

“We’ve represented students who had bones broken,” he said. “And we’ve represented students who started refusing to go to school because they were so fearful of what had happened to them.”

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