The mother of a student in an Anchorage school says the Anchorage School District broke state law by not telling her when her child was restrained or isolated from other students during the current school year.
Regina Pitts says in the lawsuit that district officials were required to notify her each of the 14 times her son, who is disabled, was secluded or restrained between the beginning of the school year and mid-September. They notified her only twice, the complaint said.
Pitts is represented by the Northern Justice Project, a nonprofit civil rights law firm in Anchorage. The firm is seeking to make the case, filed Friday in Anchorage Superior Court, a class-action lawsuit for past, present and future students restrained or isolated by the Anchorage School District.
"We believe this is a widespread problem on getting notices of restraints and seclusion, especially timely notices," said Meg Zaletel, a partner at the Northern Justice Project.
According to the complaint, Pitts learned about the other 12 times her son was secluded or restrained after submitting a request for her son's education records, the complaint said. The complaint did not disclose the nature of the child's disability or his age, grade and the school he attended. Zaletel declined to provide the information.
When Pitts got the reports about the times her son was retrained or secluded, they did not include all of the information required by state law, the lawsuit said. She also did not receive any follow-up information about any reviews of when her son was restrained or secluded, again violating state law, the complaint said.
School District spokeswoman Heidi Embley said Friday that the district had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and hadn't had a chance to review the allegations. She said the School District typically doesn't comment on ongoing litigation.
Under state law as well as School District policy, parents must be notified on the same day that their child is physically restrained or secluded. A written report must include the time of the incident, the names of the staff involved, a description of the student's conduct, other efforts used before restraint or seclusion and the type of restraint or seclusion used.
The staff must then review the incident and follow up with the parents or legal guardians, according to state law and School District policy. The policy on restraint and seclusion says both techniques are supposed to be used only in an emergency and when other, less drastic steps fail, and then only to protect the child, staff, other students or School District property.
Zaletel said it's important that parents get information on any restraints or seclusion used on their children as soon as possible "so they can help process it with their kids."
"It's a pretty big event happening in their lives; parents need to know," she said.
School District students were restrained or secluded 2,720 times last school year, 420 of which resulted in injuries for students or staff, according to a report from the district to the state Department of Education and Early Development.
The lawsuit filed Friday follows less than a year after the Northern Justice Project filed another lawsuit against the Anchorage School District over its written notification process for student suspensions.
A month later, the School Board revised its policy and Zaletel said Friday that the case was dismissed.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing