FREDERICK COUNTY, M.d. (FOX 5 DC) - The U.S Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland calls it the largest civil rights investigation in the state: More than a hundred students with disabilities secluded and restrained in Frederick County Schools.
This investigation revealed more than 7,000 incidents of abuse within the Frederick County Public School District, almost entirely on students with disabilities, some as young as five years old.
"Well over 100 students over the course of the past few years were subject to these practices," said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek Barron.
The Department of Justice is recommending major changes after a year-long investigation into reports of abuse dating back to 2017.
The department found the district routinely locked students in isolation rooms and restrained them. Nearly 50 of the students were subject to these practices multiple times.
"We had school authorities literally locking them away or secluding them in rooms or facilities and physically restraining them so they don’t wander away," said Barron.
The majority of the incidents happened at Lewistown Elementary, Spring Ridge Elementary and Rock Creek School.
FOX 5 spoke to one parent who has a non-verbal son in a wheelchair at Rock Creek.
"I personally was taken by surprise when this hit the fan. That there were so many," said Cindy Rose.
Former school board member Coleen Cusimano was on the board in 2017 and was not aware of the practices happening within the school district.
"The fact that our students were being put in really abusive situation and many of these students are non-verbal or limited verbal capability – it’s staggering, it’s very alarming and concerning," said Cusimano.
The investigation found that the ratio of properly trained staff and caregivers to students was lacking.
These practices also distressed students, sometimes resulting in self-harm.
"This is the blessing in disguise. We and the special needs parents are finally going to get the things we have been begging Frederick co. public schools to provide for us for our children so that we feel like they’re safe and they’re taken care of," said Rose.
In a statement, Frederick County Public Schools says they have finalized their settlement with the Department of Justice and identified areas for improvement. Their full statement can be found below:
"After several months of working collaboratively with Department of Justice (DOJ) representatives on an investigation into the seclusion and restraint practices used by FCPS, yesterday we finalized an agreement. The agreement identifies areas for process improvement and highlights where FCPS has already begun transitioning our practices to ensure they are aligned with best practices and the requirements outlined in the agreement.
The agreement aligns with the vision and work FCPS has already begun. 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."