COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- In one year, 371 children in the Columbus school district were held down, physically removed from a class or put in closet-like rooms to calm down about 1,800 times, according to a newly released state review of the district's records.
The Columbus Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/12g8VeX) that the new information about how often, where and why Columbus staff members have used physical means to try to control children with disabilities offers insight into the nature of the children's behavioral problems and how workers try to manage them.
The district previously refused to release the figures, saying they were private.
The new numbers are the result of a state review in response to a complaint from a group called Disability Rights Ohio, filed with the Ohio Department of Education in November.
Investigators sought to learn whether the district broke federal law by denying an adequate education to disabled students. Because no child spent what amounted to 10 school days in seclusion, Columbus was cleared. The state reviewed district records from November 2011 to November 2012 but didn't observe in classrooms or interview parents, students or teachers.
"It really shows a district, in many places, that is out of control," said Sue Tobin, the chief legal counsel for Disability Rights Ohio.
She said she found it troubling that the investigators found seclusion or restraint appropriate if records noted that students were dangerous or being physically violent.
"They took things on face value," Tobin said.
Christine Cline, the lead complaint investigator, said the state must take staff members at their word and that it's not her role to judge whether they made the right decisions.
"I don't know that anybody should second-guess," she said. "As an educator and mom, you never want to see restraint or seclusion. But there are times when, to protect other children or staff, it is the only option."
At Beatty Park Elementary School, which works only with children with behavior-related disabilities, district reports show that all 113 students had either been restrained or secluded during a one-year period.
The secluded children were put in one of four seclusion rooms a total of 862 times, with some of them screaming or crying for long periods, and bothering other students and staff members. Others hit, kicked, spit, tried to bite or threw things. One child was forcibly moved after refusing to come in from recess.
Twelve children at Binns Elementary were physically restrained or made to go to the "calm-down room" a total of 119 times. Sixteen children at Watkins were restrained a total of 119 times. Each school has classrooms that serve students with severe disabilities and emotional disturbances.
At Binns, some of the students' behavioral problems were so intense that they no longer are able to attend school and are getting instruction at home.
The district's incident reports didn't include two instances of student abuse that occurred at Beatty Park in March. Both involved aides who were fired for physically harming students in seclusion rooms and failing to tell anyone.
Cline said they wouldn't be appropriate to include in the type of investigation she was conducting.
Joe Ryan, an assistant professor at Clemson University who has studied seclusion, said educators who use seclusion and restraint must ask themselves, "Was it really necessary? Was there a true physical danger? Had staffers tried to calm a student before secluding him?"
"If a third-grader says, 'I'm going to kill you,' do you really take that as a threat? What is the potential for that being carried out?" Ryan asked. "The definition of insanity is if you keep doing the same intervention and getting the same results. If you keep doing it, who's the slow learner here? It's not the kid.
Cline said it appeared that Columbus employees were asking those questions.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com