What are my options for a formal complaint if I disagree with the school’s use of restraint or isolation?What are my options for a formal complaint if I disagree with the school’s use of restraint or isolation?
There are different types of complaint processes that might be available if a person disagrees with a school’s use of restraint or isolation. These include general complaint processes, discrimination complaint options, and special education dispute resolution options for children who are eligible for special education services.
General Complaint Processes:
Most districts have a policy and procedure that covers general complaints regarding staff or programs. You can also check your district’s policy and procedure regarding the use of restraints and isolation, to see if it includes a complaint process.
You can read more about addressing Complaints regarding School or District Staff or Programs on our Publications page.
Discrimination Complaint Options:
Any person who believes that a student has been inappropriately restrained or isolated because of the student’s disability, race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or other protected category, can file a discrimination complaint.
Every school district is required to have a discrimination complaint process, and you should be able to find a copy of your district’s Non-Discrimination Policy and Procedure on the district website, or by calling the district office. If the complaint is not resolved at the district level, or if the district does not respond, a person can appeal to OSPI’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights. You can find information about that complaint process on OSPI’s website, at: https://www.k12.wa.us/about-ospi/contact-us/complaints-about-discrimination.
Discrimination complaints can also be filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). OCR reviews complaints of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or disability. You can find information about their complaint process on their website at: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.
In 2016, the OCR sent a “Dear Colleague Letter” to school districts explaining how the use of restraint or isolation may result in discrimination on the basis of disability, in violation of Section 504. You can find that letter on the U.S. Department of Education’s website in their Policy Guidance section or at this link: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201612-504-restraint-seclusion-ps.pdf
You can also find an overview of discrimination complaint options in our Toolkit on Discrimination, on our website.
Special Education Dispute Resolution Options:
For students eligible for special education services, who have an IEP (Individualized Education Program), a parent can also use the special education dispute resolution options to raise a complaint regarding the use of restraint or isolation.
Washington state special education rules include sections on restraint and isolation in WAC Chapter 392-172A. They explain the limited circumstances when restraint or isolation can be used. They also include required safety precautions if restraint or isolation is used. (You can find the special education rules online at https://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=392-172a&full=true).
If a parent, a teacher, or other concerned person believes that a school has not followed the special education rules, including the rules relating to restraint and isolation, they can file a Special Education Citizen Complaint with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Information about the citizen complaint process is posted on OSPI’s website, in the Special Education section, under Dispute Resolution, at https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/special-education/dispute-resolution.
A parent also has the option of requesting mediation or a due process hearing to address concerns relating to special education, including concerns about restraint or isolation. Information about those options is also available on OSPI’s Special Education pages, under Dispute Resolution, at https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/special-education/dispute-resolution.
You can read more about options for resolving disputes relating to special education in OEO’s Parent’s Guide to Protecting the Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Schools, on our Publications page.