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U.S. settles with Florida school district to protect students with disabilities

The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the Okaloosa County School District in Florida over allegations the district used physical and verbal abuse on students with disabilities. File photo by zeevveez/Flickr
The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the Okaloosa County School District in Florida over allegations the district used physical and verbal abuse on students with disabilities. File photo by zeevveez/Flickr

Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the Okaloosa County School District in Florida over allegations the district used physical and verbal abuse on students with disabilities.

The department announced the settlement on Wednesday after finding the school district had violated Title II of the American with Disabilities Act for the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint on students, before attempting other behavior-management or de-escalation strategies. In some cases, the department said students with disabilities were injured, while others lost hours of class time.

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"All children deserve an opportunity to learn and thrive in a safe and supportive environment," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

"Schools must provide students with disabilities appropriate educational supports and cannot resort to practices that physically and mentally harm them."

Under the settlement agreement, the Okaloosa County School District voluntarily agreed to ban seclusion, to reform its restraint practices and to improve its staff training. The school district also agreed to strengthen its internal investigations while making it easier for students and parents to file complaints.

In addition, the district plans to review its procedures for how students with disabilities are restrained during transport or on buses.

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The school district said it will designate an administrator to oversee other services, including transportation and behavioral staff, to make sure there is compliance with the Justice Department agreement and with Title II of the ADA.

"We commend the Okaloosa County School District for agreeing to remedy the problems brought to light by the department's investigation, by employing effective and non-discriminatory tools and protocols when handling behavioral matters in its schools," said U.S. Attorney Jason Coody for the Northern District of Florida.

"We stand with our colleagues in the Civil Rights Division in the fight to redress discrimination against students with disabilities in school."

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