FCPS administration building

The Frederick County Public Schools Central Office at 191 S. East St. in Frederick.

A Department of Justice investigation and subsequent settlement announced Wednesday found that Frederick County Public Schools “systematically and improperly” secluded and restrained students with disabilities in violation of federal law.

The investigation, opened in October 2020, “revealed thousands of incidents of seclusion and restraint in just two and a half school years,” according to a DOJ news release.

The department focused on school years 2017-18, 2018-19 and the first half of 2019-20. During that period, FCPS performed 7,253 seclusions and restraints on 125 students. Thirty-four individual students were secluded or restrained more than 50 times each.

“Although students with disabilities make up only 10.8 percent of students enrolled in the district, every single student the district secluded was a student with disabilities, as were 99 percent — all but one — of the students the district restrained,” the release said.

The district was found to be discriminating against students with disabilities in “pervasive noncompliance” with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition to analyzing system policy and data on behavioral interventions, DOJ investigators conducted interviews with teachers, administrators, support staff and guardians of four affected students.

“We cannot stand by and watch schools put children with disabilities in isolation thousands of times and call it public education,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in the release. “The district’s unlawful use of seclusion and restraint did not help students; it led to heightened distress and denied them access to a safe and positive learning environment.”

What the investigation found

Eighty-nine percent of the reported seclusions and restraints the DOJ analyzed took place at three schools: Lewistown Elementary, Spring Ridge Elementary and Rock Creek School.

Lewistown and Spring Ridge are the only elementary schools in the county that host the Pyramid program, which serves students with significant social and emotional needs. Rock Creek is a specialty school that exclusively serves students with severe intellectual, physical and emotional disabilities.

State law and FCPS policy both require seclusion — in which a student is isolated, often in a padded room, and prevented from leaving — and physical restraint to be reserved for emergency situations.

But the DOJ found FCPS “routinely resorted to seclusion and restraint in non-emergency situations” rather than using appropriate behavioral interventions. As a result, students with disabilities were regularly “segregated” from their classmates, investigators wrote in a letter to the district, which “resulted in them missing weeks, or in some cases months, of instructional time.”

In the same letter, DOJ investigators wrote that FCPS routinely secluded and restrained students with autism for running or wandering away from their caregivers or locations — a common behavior referred to as “elopement.” Often, the district used seclusion and restraint on students multiple times in a single day, “even when those techniques appeared to escalate behavior.”

The district employed heavy-handed tactics to address behaviors it should have anticipated as part and parcel of educating students with disabilities, the DOJ found.

These practices “often intensified students’ distress,” the release said, “with some students engaging in self-harm and showing other signs of trauma while in seclusion.”

Moreover, FCPS did not end individual seclusions even when students were in crisis, the DOJ found. Instead, the district “imposed vague, arbitrary criteria for when a student could be released from seclusion,” which didn’t take individual students’ needs or situations into account.

Eric Louérs-Phillips, a spokesman for FCPS, said the school system’s “goal is to make sure that we provide a safe environment for our students.”

“And that’s always been the case,” he said.

The district had been under the impression it would be able to communicate the investigation’s findings and the details of the settlement to the community before the DOJ disseminated its news release Wednesday, Louérs-Phillips added.

“Because it was an investigation, it was information we just couldn’t share until it was concluded,” he said.

What the settlement requires

Under the terms of the settlement, which FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban and DOJ representatives signed Wednesday morning, the district will immediately end its use of seclusion, overhaul its restraint practices and train staff on appropriate behavioral interventions for students with disabilities.

The settlement also details compensatory services for affected students, stringent training requirements for staff, and bolstered reporting and documentation guidelines.

All students who were subject to seclusion or restraint between the 2017-18 and 2020-21 school years will be offered three months of weekly, one-hour counseling sessions. They’ll also be offered compensatory education services — in the form of tutoring, summer school or therapy sessions — to make up for every hour of instruction they missed.

Going forward, any time a student is subjected to physical restraint, the school must convene an IEP meeting within 10 school days to determine whether a functional behavioral assessment — which looks for underlying causes of behavior issues — should be conducted.

FCPS is also required to revise its policies to require a debriefing meeting after every incident of physical restraint to discuss the events that led to the action being taken and steps that will be taken to avoid the use of restraint in the future.

School principals will have to identify and report any incomplete incident reports or instances in which physical restraint did not comply with district policy. They will also be required to work with certified behavior specialists to collect and review student and school-wide physical restraint data on a weekly basis.

Further, FCPS will have to create a system to process and respond to complaints about its use of physical restraint. It will be required to notify parents and guardians of restrained students by the end of the school day.

The settlement includes an array of staffing requirements, too.

All “self-contained classrooms” — which are classrooms made up only or primarily of students with disabilities — must have at least one behavior support specialist assigned to them. That person must be certified by an accredited organization, and they’ll be responsible for tracking data on seclusions and restraints.

Those who are in the role now but not yet certified can continue in their positions until the start of the 2023-24 school year so long as they enroll in a program to obtain the required certification.

Within 30 days, the district will hire a full-time, board-certified behavioral analyst to supervise the work of all those certified behavioral specialists. The new hire must be approved by the DOJ and the state.

FCPS will also be required to develop a plan to hire more teachers with special education certifications and create incentives for current employees to obtain them. It must submit this plan to the DOJ and the state by April 30 for review and comment.

“Frederick County Public Schools understand the significant work ahead under this agreement,” the DOJ’s Clarke wrote in the news release, “and we will ensure that they institute all the institutional reforms necessary to comply with the law.”

Reporter Angela Roberts contributed to this report.

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

(37) comments

govtmule57

I would hope that folks commenting would read the report and the agreement before coming to definitive conclusions. I have yet to read the complete report, but I found this sentence very interesting:

"Over the Relevant Period, the District performed 7,253 seclusions and restraints on 125 students. Although students with disabilities make up approximately 11% of students enrolled in the District, every single student the District secluded was a student with disabilities, as were 99% — all but one — of the students the District restrained."

MrSniper

What a bizarre comment section. A portion of the comments are anecdotes from people who confess to knowing how bad things had gotten & did nothing. Another portion seems to want to assign blame on whichever Democratic president they seem they can’t stand most. Yet the most bizarre are those who use how challenging this particular population of students are to educate as somehow justifying the unlawful abuse they were forced to endure. No one mentions that somehow other public school districts are able to carry out the mission of educating children with special needs without systematically violating federal laws designed to protect this vulnerable population of students. There is no excuse that pardons these atrocities. At the very least people need to be fired. Criminal investigations must be focused at the perpetrators of these heinous violations against children. The county should move swiftly to settle with the families of the most egregious examples of abuse & should expect further litigation for years. I see no way Dr. Alban stays on in any capacity with FCPS. This is a sad day for Frederick county.

JustACitizen

"The settlement also details compensatory services for affected students ..." Time for the superintendent to GO AWAY and her pay docked.

AOC

Reading the report by the US Attorney and Department of Justice is compelling and reveals inaction on behalf of FCPS Administration. The USA/DOJ did not dream this up on their own. Obviously, several parents and/or guardians felt the need to seek federal intervention.

The facts that should be revealed is who @FCPS met with parents and failed to take action? Based on the USA/DOJ report the parents’ concerns were in fact true concerns.

How could this happen? In 2016 FNP reported:

New school system department will focus on closing gap in minority achievement

By JEREMY BAUER-WOLF jbauerwolf@newspost.com Jan 8, 2016

“Keith Harris is heading a new Frederick County Public Schools department focused on minority achievement.”

“To sharpen its focus on these issues, the school system has restructured, launching the new Department of Accelerated Achievement and Equity this month. Different elements of the school system, which traditionally floated under different departments, have been consolidated. The new department includes specialists in SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS, and English-language learners, or students whose first language is not English.”

The USA/DOJ identified that the mistreatment began in the 2017-2018 school year. And who did the USA/DOJ address the investigative finding?

Keith Harris, Ed.D.

Executive Director, Accelerating Achievement & Equity

Frederick County Public Schools

191 South East Street

Frederick, MD 21701

keith.harris@fcps.org

In the same 2016 FNP article Harris asserted:

“A persistent problem in Frederick County Public Schools, and across the entire nation, is the presence of an achievement gap. That term describes the disparity in educational success between minority and non minority students — not just racial minorities, BUT ALSO STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS and those with low-income backgrounds.”

Now that it has been confirmed ADA violations were committed by FCPS employees, hopefully public civil litigation will follow so we will know who failed to appropriately respond to parental concerns.

DickD

Alban allowed this to go on, she must go!

C.D.Reid

Time to break out the pitchforks and torches, huh Dick? Shall it be tar and feathers, or just string her on up?

TomWheatley

And no comments about 10% of students with disabilities? Seems really high to me.

marylandmirage1

There is no easy answer to this problem, and to fully resolve all the individual issues would require a lot more funding than either the community or the state is prepared to spend, as some children require very specialized services to deal with their disability. Children are ideally supposed to be placed in a least restrictive environment, but placing a child prone to explosive outbursts into a general class situation can be very disruptive to the teacher as well as the other students.

threecents

[thumbup][thumbup]Mdmirage

tmainsw

Not surprised at all. We had to remove our child from OMS since the administration kept locking her into a small room, denying her lunch and threatening her with the police. Only surprised that FCPS is actually being held responsible.

LeonardKeepers

my niece had a daughter that was called developmentally disabled.the child could not walk ,talk,basically she could not do anything for herself.she could see and hear.she had to carried or put in a wheelchair.she went to rock creek and i too wondered if she really learned anything, but rule was she had to go to school. i have to agree with one poster,not many people would/could handle the job handling emotional and disturbed children.it is a real shame that there are not enough people to drive the buses to transport our children to and from school.

mrnatural1

My wife and I have a friend who works with profoundly disturbed/disabled kids in Washington County. The abuse she has to put up with is OUTRAGEOUS!

* Children soiling their clothes, throwing their feces everywhere (including at her) and smearing it on walls.

* Kids hitting and BITING her, leaving bruises and sometimes breaking the skin. Some of them are bigger and stronger than she is, and she frequently has no help.

* Incessant screaming and fighting.

* Throwing themselves into walls, etc.

Most people would not last 10 minutes in her job.

To top it off, few if any of these kids are learning anything. Someone in authority decided they should be in the public school system instead of at home with their family or in a facility equipped and certified to care for them.

The DOJ is being very unreasonable. It's easy to whip out the ADA, and claim *ALL* children should be in public school no matter what -- that they never be isolated or restrained -- when someone else has to do the dirty work.

Some children simply do not belong in the public school system. It's not fair to them, the teachers, or the other students.

md1980

And what would any of these judges do in a case like any above? It is the primary responsibility of a school to protect a student from himself and to protect other students.

C.D.Reid

From the descriptions of your friend's experiences, it sounds to me like some of these kids are there more for controlled day care than to be taught an education. A place their parents can put them for the day while they work, or just so they can get a break, themselves, from this type of behaviour. I know I could never do that job.

mrnatural1

That's what our friend has told us C.D.

And by the way, she is the sweetest, most caring person you can imagine. She loves 'her kids', but says that the vast majority are there for the reasons you stated. They are not getting the care they need. It's mostly a PC-driven "feel good" program.

She's definitely not there for the money. For everything she has to endure, the impossible situation she is placed in, she earns about the same as the substitute teacher who recently had a LTE published here.

I'm sure most of the people at the DOJ are well-intentioned, but they also feel strong political pressure. The easiest thing for them to do is put the blame and responsibility squarely on FCPS.

newspostreader

You nailed it mrnatural1 - Anyone who has worked in the FCPS Pyramid Program knows why these actions were usually necessary. It's a horrible situation to see a child go through this, but people have no idea what these teachers and their classroom support staff is going through. There was an incident at Spring Ridge a few years ago where a Pyramid student placed their classmates in serious danger and caused destruction to the school resulting in windows that had to be boarded up. I guess in that situation they are just supposed to step back and let it happen?

DickD

You are right, but not all of them are equally bad. Should we tutor them at home? If so, what should be done when they are "acting up"?

threecents

[thumbup]MrNatural

runjdon

[thumbup][thumbup] This. Easy to play the blame game until you actually walk a mile in the shoes of these teachers.

Nicki

[thumbup] mmatural1

phydeaux994

There’s not going to be any Public Schools left in this Country when everybody quits. Teachers have been abandoned by their Administrations and by the School Boards and by the parents. It’s already happening. Not enough Teachers, Aides, or Substitutes. Or bus Drivers. The High School student parking lots are jammed. We were driving down Market Street this afternoon as TJ was letting out. Students leaving the one exit from the parking lot, parent’s lining the street picking up kids, doors opening into passing traffic, a million kids darting across the street, no busses in sight, one poor crossing guard you couldn’t see because of all the cars trying to move, one big mess. It’s all Biden’s fault.

mrnatural1

[thumbup][thumbup] phydeaux.

I'd say it's primarily Obama's fault though. [cool]

Fredginrickey

I’d say it’s Dubya’s fault, no child left behind and school policies written by those who profit from the policies. No lobbyists left behind.

Frayou

Possibly I don’t know enough about the system works? Are these students with special disabilities or conditions put in classrooms with other students without said conditions? If so, are they to be allowed to disrupt the classes staying in the classroom? If so, doesn’t sound to be reasonable for the classroom learning condition overall? Possibly I don’t have all the information?

FlyFisherman

It’s been the law for decades that every student must be placed in “the least restrictive environment”. That means mainstreaming in the Pyramid schools. Rock Creek is different in that every student there has some form of disability. The school system spends a lot of time teaching “social and emotional” learning because so many students act out. If a student has an IEP they cannot be disciplined if the behavior is a “manifestation of their disability”. FCPS needs to hire the appropriate staff and they are truly difficult to find right now.

mrnatural1

[thumbup][thumbup] Frayou

FlyFisherman

Until you’ve experienced the violence of the students in the pyramid program, or spent time with severely emotionally disturbed students at Rock Creek, you cannot understand the desire to make classrooms safe for all the other students in the room. Training is the not way to get teachers to learn how to implement interventions that are not a person’s natural inclination in a moment of crisis.

FlyFisherman

Training is the ONLY way….

gjthuro

"loaded " now loved...sorry

gjthuro

DoJ is a joke , they should by investigating themselves...they are loved with criminals especially at the very top

matts853

This does not sound good at all. Sounds to me like a lot of people should lose their jobs. Training isn’t a panacea to making bad employees good.

FcpsAdmin2

It looks like Alban has encouraged and fostered the systematic abuse of students with disabilities. Is a federal criminal investigation of her actions also underway? The Board should remove her immediately.

threecents

What investigation and what settlement?

bhall74

Since Federal Law was broken, will any FCPS employee(s) lose their job(s)?

C.D.Reid

I'm not sure what federal law was broken?

threecents

[thumbup]CD

vjhughes

The Americans with Disabilities Act, and also the Education for all Handicapped Children Act, it would seem.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.