Texas school districts vary widely in how often they physically restrain students with disabilities – despite a shared state policy on when to use them. Use this interactive graphic to see how school districts (and some charter schools) compared during the 2007-08 school year, the most recent statewide data available. An explanation on why these rates differ follows the graphic.

Some of the highest restraint rates were found in the smallest school districts and in independent charter schools. Many of these districts and charter schools had fewer than five children restrained – but the students were restrained dozens of times each during that school year.  

Several of the school districts that had higher restraint rates than their peers in 2007-08 saw their numbers drop dramatically the following school year. Those statistics haven’t been recorded by the state yet.

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Leander ISD, which reported 1,638 restraints of students with disabilities in 2007-08, had just 725 last school year. The district says it had been over-reporting restraints: When a teacher had to restraint a student three separate times in one outburst, the district reported it as three restraints instead of one. (Disability rights advocates say these districts were actually reporting it right – and that most other districts have been far under-reporting their restraints.)

“Since then, we have changed our training techniques to where we will restrain a child a little bit longer to make sure the child has calmed down,” said Dick Ellis, the district’s communications director. “So that changes our reporting.”

The district has also brought in an expert who specializes in “positive behavior supports,” a technique that involves avoiding emotional triggers for kids with disabilities.

But there are some circumstances where restraints are simply unavoidable, said Don Schmidt, assistant superintendent for San Antonio’s Northside ISD, which restrained more students than any other large school district in 2007-08. Schmidt said despite widespread efforts to implement de-escalation techniques across the large district, which has more than 10,000 special education students, they had a case this fall where a 19-year-old with disabilities walked into school one morning and slugged a teacher. He had to be restrained so he didn’t injure someone else. Another day, a girl in special education classes jumped another girl in the cafeteria; both had to be restrained.

“We have some students who have to have three staffers with them at a time,” he said.

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