The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today resolved a compliance review of the Saco Public Schools in Maine. The district entered a voluntary agreement to take steps necessary to ensure students with disabilities receive the free appropriate public education (FAPE) to which they are entitled without unnecessary restraint or seclusion or reducing their school days. The agreement calls for identifying ways to minimize the involvement of a school resource officer in student misconduct that can be safely and appropriately handled by school personnel. In addition, the agreement includes a requirement to report accurate data to the Department as part of the Civil Rights Data Collection.
“I thank Saco Public Schools for its leadership in addressing crucial issues for students with disabilities, ensuring that these students will learn in the full school day with appropriate supports from trained school personnel and for the commitment to ensure accurate and complete data reporting to the Office for Civil Rights,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “Saco Public Schools’ important actions — including through focusing on de-escalation practices and using less restrictive responses to students — during the course of this review have already contributed to a notable decline in the use of restraint and seclusion while maintaining safe and appropriate learning environments for students.”
OCR reviewed Saco Public Schools as part of a series of 24 compliance reviews initiated nationwide related to restraint and seclusion, begun in January 2019. OCR’s investigation reflected significant concerns, including elevated use of restraint and seclusion in the first of three school years OCR reviewed, followed by a more than 80% reduction in their use in the second year OCR reviewed and an additional 33% decline the following school year.
These reductions, accompanied by changed practices in the district, reflect district capacity to address student civil rights, as does the Saco Public Schools’ commitment in its voluntary agreement with OCR to, for example:
- Assess whether specified students with disabilities who were subjected to restraint or seclusion during the three-year period reviewed require additional remedies or services, including compensatory education.
- Develop or revise criteria to guide decisions about when Saco Public Schools may need to assess a student’s current interventions and supports.
- Assess the appropriate involvement of a school resource officer in student behavior incidents and provide school resource officer training including specifically about responding to students with disabilities.
- Develop or revise policy regarding non-disciplinary behavior-related dismissals or stay-home directives to ensure students do not unnecessarily lose instructional time. And,
- Provide training regarding federal civil rights legal protections for students with disabilities to all district administrators and staff who interact with students.