School district settled ADA violations claims brought by the DOJ.
The Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland announced together a settlement agreement with Frederick County Public School District to address “the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities,” leading to ADA violations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination based on persons with disabilities. Like the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities” and ensures those with disabilities are accommodated. In 1986, the National Council on Disability first recommended that a law would be put into place, and the final version of the bill was signed on July 26, 1990 by former U.S. President George H. W. Bush. It was later amended in 2008, to expand upon what constitutes as ADA violations.
Th investigation against Frederick, initiated in October 2020, revealed that the school “unnecessarily and repeatedly secluded and restrained students as young as five years old” in violation of Title II of the ADA. Under the settlement, the County has agreed to end seclusion change its restraint practices, and train staff on use of more appropriate interventions.
There were allegedly thousands of cases of seclusion and restraint in just two and a half years that prompted the investigation. Those with disabilities make up only 10% of students enrolled, and yet, every single student the district secluded was a student with disabilities. The district “routinely” resorted this disciplinary action, even in non-emergency cases, instead of coming up with alternative means to handle these situations. Of course, these methods only intensified student distress, leading to longer periods of seclusion and distress.
“We cannot stand by and watch schools put children with disabilities in isolation thousands of times and call it public education,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “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. Frederick County Public Schools understand the significant work ahead under this agreement and we will ensure that they institute all the institutional reforms necessary to comply with the law.”
“Every child should feel safe and protected while in school,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron of the District Maryland. “The use of seclusion rooms and unjustified physical restraints on young people, particularly those with disabilities, falls painfully short of a school district’s responsibility to support the safety, health, and educational needs of its students. Students with disabilities deserve a school environment rooted in positive, preventive, and supportive classroom strategies. We appreciate Frederick County Public School District’s cooperation in this investigation and are pleased that the district has agreed to take comprehensive steps to ensure that students with disabilities receive equal educational opportunities.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the district will take steps to ensure that ADA violations do not continue nor discriminate against students with disabilities. The county is working with the school system to carry out reforms.