Chicago, IL

Chicago Public Schools Accused of Violating State Law on Use of Restraint and Timeout

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

According to investigation, Chicago Public Schools has put students, including those with disabilities, at great risk of harm by failing to train staff on proper use of physical restraint and timeout
Photo byM. MonkonUnsplash

Recent allegations have surfaced against the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), suggesting that the district has violated state law regarding the use of restraint and timeout practices in schools. These allegations raise concerns about the safety and well-being of students within the district.

According to reports, CPS has been accused of improperly restraining students and using timeout practices that go against Illinois state laws. These laws are designed to protect students from excessive or inappropriate disciplinary measures and ensure a safe and supportive learning environment.

Under Illinois law, the use of physical restraints and seclusion in schools is strictly regulated. Restraints can only be used as a last resort when a student poses a threat to themselves or others, and the duration and force used must be reasonable and proportionate. Similarly, seclusion practices are heavily restricted, and students should not be isolated for prolonged periods or subjected to harsh conditions.

The accusations stem from a year long investigation conducted by the Illinois State Board of Education which found there were numerous instances where students were subjected to physical restraints that exceeded the limits allowed by state law. Furthermore, the investigation revealed cases where students were placed in seclusion or isolation for extended periods, potentially putting their mental health as well as their physical health at risk.

According to the letter written by the state board, CPS is guilty of a number of violations.

1) CPS allegedly failed to report 15 incidents involving restraints that occurred between February 1 and March 8, according to recent information. Out of these incidents, four were not reported to the state board's reporting system, and in 10 out of 23 incidents reviewed, parents were not notified within the required timeframe.

2) During the same period, the district reported seven incidents of physical restraint exceeding 15 minutes or timeouts exceeding 30 minutes. However, it remains unclear if licensed educators or therapists were involved in conducting evaluations, and CPS did not provide evidence of staff training. Disturbingly, some incidents involved students being restrained for even longer periods, with durations of 45 minutes at Prussing Elementary School and Nixon Elementary School, one hour at Jones College Prep, and one hour and 15 minutes at Peterson Elementary School.

3) The district reported two incidents of prone physical restraint, which involves placing a student face down with pressure applied to their body, at Roosevelt and Fenger High Schools on January 30 and February 9, respectively. Prone physical restraint was prohibited at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year by state law.

This letter was written by Tony Sanders state Superintendent to CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. It was the Board of Education's fourth injunction ordering the school system to obey state law. Sanders added, “Although CPS has significantly reduced the use of (restraint, timeout or isolated timeout) when no reported imminent danger exists, we still find that it does still occur,” Sanders wrote, saying that most of the occurrences that were reported incidents still involved staff that had received no training and should not have been using the disciplinary action.

It was also noted that as of March 28, less than half of the 77 schools listed as priorities by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) for training had completed it. Despite ISBE's order for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to stop the practice of restraint until training occurred, some of the schools on the priority list continued to report the use of restraint. Additionally, 16 schools that were not on the priority list also reported incidents of restraint. This information indicates a delay in completing the required training and ongoing instances of restraint in both the prioritized schools and other schools not on the list

Another official from the Illinois State Board of Education said that these violations display a “complete disregard for the health and safety of its students and blatant violation of state law is unconscionable.”

In response to the allegations, CPS has stated that they take these concerns seriously and are conducting their own internal investigation. The district has pledged to review its policies and procedures regarding the use of restraints and timeouts, and to provide additional training and support to school staff to ensure compliance with state laws.

These allegations have raised concerns among parents, education advocates, and community members who believe that the well-being and rights of students must be the top priority. They are calling for transparency and accountability in addressing these allegations.

Terri Smith, a parent of a CPS student and advocate for children with disabilities, said, “Just when I think I’ve seen the worst, I see something worse like this. They’re putting children at risk knowingly, wantonly, and maliciously. Everyone can see that they have made a conscious decision not to keep our children safe.”

Should these violations continue, CPS could be placed on probation “for exhibiting deficiencies that present a health hazard or a danger to students and staff.”

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