Fargo Public Schools vows to make changes after Federal Office of Civil Rights finds concerns in restraint reports

Courtesy: Fargo Public Schools
Courtesy: Fargo Public Schools

(Fargo, ND) -- Fargo Public Schools is facing some criticism from federal officials regarding use of restraints and reporting challenges, 

Fargo Public Schools was one of the hundreds across the country to have their use of restraints and seclusions reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The review focused on the years 2017-2019, and claimed the district did not properly document the total number of restraint incidents among other incidents. The report was based off of data collected during the three year time period, which a district representative said does not fully represent the current conditions within FPS. 

" We have done significant work to ensure that we are reducing restraints by promoting classroom management skills and techniques[...]" said Fargo Public Schools General Counsel Tara Brandner about the OCR report. "I absolutely believe that having the report can help us have continued conversations with OCR and about our practices."

The report found during the 2017-2018 school year, there were 376 documented student restraints across the district, with 373 occurring at the elementary level, two at the middle school level, and an additional one at the high school level. Of all the restraints used during that time period, 70% were students with disabilities. Of all restraints that were reported, 35% of them were not completed in a timely fashion according to the OCR, with 33 of the reports being done ten days or more after the triggering incident. Additionally, some parents interviewed by the OCR told the agency the reports they were provided did not show how the behavior of the child escalated prior to restraint use, if school staff were following IEP, BIP, or crisis plans prior to restraining students, and similar concerns. Additionally, the OCR says Fargo Public Schools often did not re-evaluate students who likely were in need of additional services. 

The OCR found Fargo Public Schools repeatedly denied students with disabilities who were restrained a free appropriate public education. This is due to the district failing to re-evaluate or to timely re-evaluate students who were in need of additional services, and a loss of educational services due to the need for the students to leave learning environments. 

Overall, the OCR says the district kept inadequate documentation that was needed for several portions of the compliance review. Of the documentation that does exist, OCR was concerned with timeliness of the reports, a lack of relevant details, and not requiring staff to document restraint incidents performed by School Resource Officers that were on district property. The OCR says without changes to the reliability of the restraint reports, it will be difficult for the district to rely on those reports for future incidents. 

Fargo Public Schools says they have already begun implementing several of the requested changes outlined in the report. This includes conducting reviews with students impacted in the report who are still in the district to determine if supplementary education is needed, reviewing and revising 12 different policies related to restraint use, revising how and when restraint reports are written, and several more changes. 

Original Air Date: 
Friday, February 2, 2024