Parents with students in Fairfax County Public Schools have sued the school system over how special education students are treated. The lawsuit alleges school officials use the practice of seclusion and isolation in a manner that harms students. Instead of using methods that would improve the classroom situation for everyone involved, they claim the tactic is used in an attempt to “silence, detain, segregate, and punish students with disabilities.”
This comes as there’s been a lot of media coverage focusing in on the overuse of isolation when it comes to students with disabilities and the damage it can do to the children. The issue first gained widespread attention in Fairfax County, for instance, after a WAMU report showed there were hundreds of instances where isolation was used but was not reported to the US Department of Education. It turns out even the child’s parents often weren’t informed about the situation like the law requires.
Realizing this is an issue that absolutely must be addressed, the school system says it’s conducted a review, issued new policies on the use of seclusion effective immediately, and convened a task force that will further investigate best practices that can be put in place in the future. However, the parents involved with the lawsuit are among many people who say this was just part of a “public relations ploy.”
The lawsuit isn’t just seeking justice for past students who have been harmed by the policy, but is asking federal authorities to ban the use of seclusion and isolation until another system can begin. The hope is new regulations could be developed that’d allow for more transparency and clearer direction on when the practice should actually be used, if at all.
While the lawsuit is focused in on Fairfax County, that’s not the only school system in Northern Virginia that’s come under scrutiny for the use of isolation. The controversy found it’s way to Loudoun County, for example, when a photo surfaced of a young special education student being secluded from her classmates.
The reports of misuse that can be found across multiple jurisdictions show the practice of secluding students with disabilities is definitely an important issue that needs to be addressed, but the discussion shouldn’t end there. As reports have suggested, students with disabilities often don’t receive the same high quality education as their peers. This has been a topic that’s frequently come up in the school board races here in Fairfax County.
During several community forums and discussions with the public, Rachna Sizemore Heizer and other candidates have highlighted the big achievement gap between students with disabilities and their classmates. Even though there’s currently a big discussion taking place about diversity and inclusion in our schools, this is an element that’s far too often overlooked.
“Too often students with disabilities get left out of the conversations regarding closing achievement and discipline gaps despite the fact that students with disabilities often have the biggest gaps” Rachna said in a recent tweet. “We need high expectations education for everyone.”
Despite some increased attention on the issue, the lawsuit and other situations prove there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to make sure students with disabilities are have an opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, there’s even some push back on addressing the issue coming from people who are running for school board.
During a recent school board forum for the At Large candidates, Vinson Palathingal decided he’d go after students with disabilities in order to school a few political points. While discussing accommodations that could be made to help students with learning disabilities succeed, Vinson said he doesn’t think there should be anything done for “silly things like ADD” and claimed it was wrong to give students with severe ADHD more time to complete tests.
What this all means is school systems like Fairfax County need to make some changes in order to ensure all students are treated to dignity and have access to a quality education. As the parents bringing the lawsuit forward have said, this must include measures for transparency and public accountability.