Editor’s Note: The State Board of Education recently made a significant policy change on open records in response to a letter from the Ohio Newspaper Association and the Ohio Coalition for Open Government. As described in a Jan. 14th Columbus Dispatch article by Randy Ludlow, the State Board of Education was scheduled to vote on a rule to declare that “school reports on the use of seclusion rooms are confidential and prohibit districts from releasing any personally identifiable information about students under federal privacy law.” After the ONA and OCOG raised concerns about this, the Board members removed the word “confidential” to “show the state wasn’t necessarily declaring the records private.”
State Board of Education members say their seclusion and restraint policy isn’t perfect, but they’re proud to have done something to protect Ohio’s children from abuse.
The board voted 12-4 yesterday to pass the state’s first-ever policy to stop schools from using seclusion rooms or physical restraint as a punishment for children or as a convenience for staff members.
Seclusion and restraint — most often applied to students with disabilities, though the policy applies to all children — will be allowed only if students pose a physical danger to themselves or others. The policy also requires schools to send parents a written report of incidents involving their children within 24 hours. Some parents have complained that their school never told them their children had spent time in seclusion.
The rules will be applied starting next school year.
“This is huge for our state,” said Debe Terhar, president of the state board, during a meeting on Monday to finalize the policy.
It will end practices in some schools “that are abhorrent,” added member C. Todd Jones.
A joint investigation by The Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio, a collaboration of NPR and Ohio public radio, found that some Ohio schools misuse seclusion rooms, which often are small, cell-like spaces. Some have put children in the rooms for minor misbehavior or for swearing at teachers. Those practices are prohibited under the new policy.
The board also made a last-minute change to wording that deals with whether records that schools keep about their use of seclusion and restraint are public. The policy originally said that incident reports of seclusion and restraint were to be confidential. Board members removed the wordconfidential yesterday to show the state wasn’t necessarily declaring the records private. But the policy still notes that the reports are “educational records” that could be withheld from the public under federal student-privacy laws.
The change was made in response to a letter from the Ohio Newspaper Association and Ohio Coalition for Open Government that expressed concern that school districts would interpret the policy to mean that the records always were private. Often, information that could identify a student can be redacted, allowing the record to be made public, the letter said.
The overall policy is a big step for a state that previously had no rules governing seclusion or restraint.
But some board members do see holes. Some want it to apply to charter schools. The law that allows the state board and Education Department to impose rules on schools applies only to traditional public schools. A separate law governs charters. The board agreed to explore whether to apply the rules to charters, Jones said.
Several charters specialize in serving students with autism or similar disorders. Some use seclusion rooms.