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Court ordered CPS to provide records in seclusion and restraint case

Many parents of Columbia Public School children have received emails this week notifying them of the release of educational records. This comes in relation to a 2020 lawsuit where two parents allege their children were confined in seclusion rooms, one injured from a restraint.

"There are different types of rooms I've seen across the state, including in Columbia Public Schools. They're small rooms meant to be storage closets," said Dr. Lara Wakefield, an advocate for children with disabilities.

The court ordered that CPS must provide documentation of students who were subjected to these rooms or restraints.

According to the press release from TGH Litigation, the plaintiffs' attorneys, the request of these documents will provide data "to show just how widespread these practices are, the plaintiffs requested that the district produce records showing the number of students CPS has subjected to isolation, seclusion, or restraint since 2017."

According to the Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2,405 incidents of seclusion and nearly 4,000 incidents of some form of restraint in the state for the first half of the 2022-2023 school year.

"Predominately the students that this is used on are students with individualized education programs or IEPs meaning students with disabilities," Wakefield said. She claims that outside of students with disabilities, these methods are also disproportionately used on students who are Black.

With the documents requested, data can be collected as evidence to provide more insight on the demographics and overlapping categories, according to TGH Litigation.

Wakefield is advocating for the plaintiffs in the case, in the hope of bringing attention to disability discrimination and right the violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act.

State Rep. Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis) and Rep. Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka) sponsored a bill in 2020 that strengthened laws on seclusion and restraint policies in schools.

"In the case of Columbia Public Schools, this is not an isolated incident. It's far from isolated, it's really a rapid problem. It's a culture and a climate that exist in that school district," Mackey said.

Since Mackey's legislation went into effect, schools are now required to notify parents or guardians of an incident an hour after the end of the school day at the latest. Then, parents or guardians would have to receive a report of the incident within five school days.

CPS updated its policy to match state law in 2022. Wakefield says that when parents are notified, they might not have all of the details.

Wakefield gave an example: "'Your child went to the Zen den for about 10 minutes today.' Well, what is a Zen Den? Does that mean your child was locked in a room for 10 minutes by himself?"

The lawsuit alleges the effect is emotional and mental distress, embarrassment and humiliation.

Parents can contact the school's principal or special education manager and ask if their child has been restrained or secluded and request the documentation.

"Its important to review the documentation, to look and see how frequently it happened," Wakefield said. "Is there a pattern?"

KOMU 8 reached out to CPS spokesperson for a comment. No response was received.

KOMU 8 is a full-powered NBC affiliate operating as an independent commercial property. As such, KOMU 8 is the only major network affiliate in the United States that acts as a university-owned commercial television station utilizing its newsroom as a working lab for students.
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