One Spectrum Academy student was restrained 99 times in one school year. Another was restrained or secluded at least 40 times over two years.
They missed so many hours of learning that the school violated their right to a free and appropriate public education, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced this week.
The two children were among more than 100 students who were immobilized or taken to timeout rooms over 1,000 times in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years at the Utah charter for autistic and neurotypically diverse children.
But the federal investigators who tallied those numbers also found significant discrepancies in the Academy’s records, and cautioned that “the total number of restraint and seclusion incidents is likely higher.”
Here is the letter from the Office for Civil Rights to Jaime Christensen, Spectrum Academy’s executive director of academics, outlining its investigation and findings. Among them: Another 26 students may have been denied a free appropriate public education.
Below is the agreement she signed, listing what the school will change to ensure it is complying with federal law. Federal officials noted that it includes “significant changes to [the Academy’s] policies, procedures, and training requirements with respect to the use of restraint and seclusion.”
In announcing the agreement below, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said, “Spectrum Academy has committed to important steps to ensure that its emergency use of restraint or seclusion does not deny students with disabilities their federally protected civil rights.”
The Office for Civil Rights will monitor the Academy’s implementation of the agreement until the school is in compliance with its terms and the related laws and regulations, it said.
In a post on Facebook on Friday, Christensen said: “The report of high numbers of restraints or seclusions is misleading at best. For example, if we are trying to keep a student who has self-injurious behavior from hurting themselves or others, we will hold their arm or whichever part of their body they are trying to harm, to avoid them getting seriously injured. This could happen multiple times during the course of a day as we work with the student to find and implement a replacement behavior.”
She said the “main concern” of federal investigators “was that we ensure that if a student has missed instruction due to a behavior incident, that we ensure the specially designed instruction minutes are made up. We are working to do that now.”
The agreement requires changes to school policies, record keeping and training.
Spectrum Academy teaches K-12+ students at five Utah schools, with campuses in North Salt Lake and Pleasant Grove, according to the investigative report. About 1,500 students were enrolled during the two school years described in the report.
When reached by phone Thursday, a Spectrum Academy employee referred The Salt Lake Tribune to Liz Banner, the institution’s Pleasant Grove regional academic director and Title IX coordinator. Banner didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment. Her counterpart with the academy’s North Salt Lake schools, Christina Guevara, also did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.
Investigators consider physical restraint anything that limits a student’s ability freely move their torso, arms, legs or head. It doesn’t apply to when a student is being escorted by an instructor or staffer who holds their hand or temporarily touches their wrist, arm, shoulder or back.
Seclusion involves isolating and confining a student to a room or area and preventing them from leaving. It doesn’t apply to timeout, which involves separating a student from others “for the purpose of calming,” the report states.