FREDERICK COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — In a recently released report, the Department of Justice found that Frederick County Public schools pervasively misused seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities.
Through a collaborative effort, a settlement was reached that requires the district end its use of seclusion, overhaul its restraint practices, and better train staff. Kristi Kimmel worked with the DOJ on their investigation, and says while her autistic and nonverbal son Zeke attended Rock Creek School, he was repeatedly unlawfully restrained or secluded.
Zeke started at Rock Creek School in 2018, when his mom says she began getting paperwork that her son was being secluded or restrained up to 12 times in one day. Kimmel says sometimes Zeke was secluded for 29 minutes, taken out, then put right back in.
“Because my child is nonverbal and autistic, he doesn’t have a voice,” Kimmel said. “He couldn’t say I was terrified, and that’s what breaks my heart. I had no way of knowing what was going on with him except for these papers that I was getting home.”
The Department of Justice’s report states that this unlawful use of seclusion and restraint led to heightened distress and denied them access to a safe and positive learning environment. Kimmel says this was certainly the case with Zeke, which is why she contacted the Disability Rights of Maryland to advocate for her son to no longer be restrained or secluded.
“He loved going to school, it went from him being happy grabbing his backpack, putting on his shoes ready to go to school, to him shutting the door crying, not wanting to go,” said Kimmel. “And then he started hitting himself.”
During a recent closed session board of education meeting, Superintendent Terry Alban acknowledged the need for improvement, said they have already begun working on it, but also said the issue was more “nuanced,” than the DOJ presented it to be. These comments and an email sent to the community have caused some to call for her resignation.
At this time FCPS is not publicly commenting on this report, but provided us with the following statement. “Again, the agreement aligns with the vision and work that FCPS has already begun,” wrote Dr. Eric Louérs-Phillips, FCPS Executive Director of Public Affairs. “Over the past few years, we have been increasing the use of restorative practices across the district. Additionally, we provide additional professional training for staff who frequently use de-escalation strategies with students in crisis situations. We know that this type of training is critically important for all instructional staff as we respond to the increased need for trauma informed practices in our schools.”