Chicago Public Schools meets Aug. 21 deadline to train staff on restraint, seclusion, officials say

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez, wearing a black suit and purple tie, speaks at a wooden City of Chicago podium during a press conference. There are Chicago and United States flags hanging behind him against a blue backdrop, along with a screen providing COVID information.
Chicago Public School says it is in compliance with the state’s 2021 law on restraint and timeout. In a Monday press release, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said restraint should be the last resort in schools and thanked school officials for making sure staff were trained. (Mauricio Pena / Chalkbeat)

Chicago Public Schools says it has met a state deadline to train school employees on the proper use of restraint, timeout, and seclusion, according to a press release Monday. 

The district said it has met the Illinois State Board of Education’s Aug. 21 deadline to train two staff members per campus at 517 schools in de-escalation and physical restraint. The state board placed Chicago Public Schools under watch last fall after the district repeatedly failed to comply with state laws governing the use of restraint, timeout, and seclusion. 

Over 3,000 staff members have completed training or are “in progress” at 513 district schools as of Aug. 21, similar to the district’s final count, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of the district’s public database. Of the staff members trained, about 1,300 are school security officers.

The district missed several deadlines throughout the 2022-23 school year to come into compliance. In the Monday press release, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said restraint should be the last resort in schools and thanked school officials for making sure that staff were trained.

“We are proud to start the new school year with staff appropriately trained at every school and will continue to prioritize this important training for our school staff,” Martinez said.

Over the last school year, the State Board of Education issued repeated warnings to Chicago Public Schools over the use of restraint and timeout in schools. 

In an April 18 letter to the district, the state board said Chicago Public Schools is “jeopardizing the health and safety of students and staff” because staff were not properly trained in restraint and timeout. 

Last school year, Chicago Public Schools reported 220 incidents of physical restraint and timeout, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat Chicago through a Freedom of Information Act request. The numbers were a slight increase over the previous school year when the district reported 205 incidents. 

Prior to 2021, the district did not report physical restraint and timeout incidents to the state. The data showed that in the 2022-23 school year, 151 employees involved in incidents were not trained, while in 2021-22, 113 untrained staff members were involved. 

Between school years 2021-22 and 2022-23, a majority of students involved in physical restraint and timeout incidents were identified as Black and male, the data showed.

Other issues cited in that letter included the use of outlawed methods of restraints, students placed in restraints for long periods of time, and failure to notify parents within 24 hours if their children were restrained. 

Restraint, timeout, and seclusion are disciplinary methods used to prevent students from harming themselves or others in school buildings. The state defines restraint as when a school employee restricts a student’s movement. Timeout is when a student is removed from a class and seclusion involves confining a student to a room without adult supervision. 

A state law passed in 2021 aimed to reduce the use of these tactics and keep students safe during  incidents, but did not did not put an end to their use.

The changes in law came after a 2019 report from Chicago Tribune and ProPublica found that school employees at districts across the state were overusing these disciplinary methods on students. A majority of students who were restrained or placed in timeout were students with disabilities, but the misuse of restraint and timeout can target all students.  Students with disabilities sometimes have physical restraints or timeouts written into their Individualized Education Programs under behavioral intervention plans.

In a joint press release on Monday, State Superintendent Tony Sanders said the state board will continue to work with CPS to maintain the training. “Having appropriately trained staff is critical in the rare situations when a student’s behavior puts them or others in imminent danger,” Sanders said in the release.

Chicago Public Schools also said in a release on Monday that it will continue to train school employees since training certifications expire every year. The district said it plans to train staff on timeout procedures by the end of the first quarter of the school year — which the State Board of Education noted was missing from the district’s training. 

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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