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Spokane schools had nearly 6,000 isolation and restraint incidents last year

New data shows Spokane Public Schools saw a 21 percent increase in incidents of isolation and restraint among students.

SPOKANE, Wash. – A previous KREM investigation found that Spokane Public Schools has the highest numbers of isolation and restraint incidents in the state of Washington.

Now, new numbers show the school district saw a 21 percent increase in the 2017-18 school year.

Isolation and restraint incidents among Washington public schools have only been documented for the past three years, by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In 2016-17, Spokane Public Schools documented 4,890 incidents where a student was either placed in an isolation room or restrained in a classroom.

To put that in perspective, Seattle Public Schools – which is almost twice as big as Spokane – reported 493 incidents in 2016-17.  

New data for 2017-18 shows Spokane’s numbers rose by more than 1,000 incidents to 5,928.

During that time, Seattle’s isolation and restraint incidents increased by about 300 cases, to 799.

Tacoma, which is almost exactly the same size as Spokane, with about 30,000 students, saw their isolation numbers go down. In 2016-17, the Tacoma Public Schools district had 561 cases. In 2017-18, it had 428.

RELATED: Isolated at school: Spokane parents claim isolation rooms misused at district schools

Why Spokane has so many incidents 

When KREM first investigated Spokane’s high rate of isolation incidents, the district said the numbers were likely a result of overreporting.

OSPI agreed. The organization said many district, including Spokane, were not using the correct definition of isolation and restraint. The district counted incidents that shouldn’t have been included.

Now that new data shows an increase in incidents, SPS again answered the question of why its numbers are disproportionately high.

District spokesman Brian Coddington said he believes there are still instances of over-reporting.

“There are,” Coddington said, of overreporting. “And we're working on training. Part of the training we're working on is to make sure people are reporting accurately and according to the standard. But also trying to dig into the individual incidents, trying to understand what's behind them, and really be able to make corrections based on those individual actions that are happening.”

He also said the district is working to train its educators to stop incidents before they start.

“We've made a shift in our training model and we've gone to a new training that's just started this month,” Coddington said. “So, we're looking at being much more proactive and looking at reducing instances before they even start. And then once something happens, de-escalation techniques that are available to us that are not some of our extreme tools. So, we're constantly looking at ways to expand our toolbox and looking at the applicability of all those different tools to make sure they're used in the right set of circumstances.”

Coddington also said SPS is trying to understand the nature of what is being reported.

OSPI said it is intervening with SPS officials to pinpoint problems and offer additional training.

KREM also reached out to the state office of the superintendent of public instruction -- to find out what it is doing to help the Spokane district.

OPSI said it is intervening with SPS officials to pinpoint problems and offer additional training.

"Our team here at OSPI has been working with Spokane Public Schools to analyze their data and develop a plan for improvement," said Katy Payne with OSPI.

Part of that plan includes personal training sessions with OSPI specialists from Olympia for every SPS special education teacher and administrator that will take place in May.

Spokane does have a higher rate of students with disabilities than the state and national averages. An estimated 16 percent of Spokane students are classified as having a disability.

The district says, since 2016, it's implemented an increased number of restorative practice interventions, which are focused alternatives to isolation and restraint to try and alter behavior.

Some Spokane schools have higher rates of isolation and restraint than others. Holmes (520), Ridgeview (469) and Whitman (615) have a combined 1,604 incidents in 2017-18, almost a third of all incidents district-wide.

“There are individual groups and individual students that present different challenges,” Coddington said. “So we need to make sure that our training is adequate, that our approaches are adequate. And we really need to look at some of those with higher numbers to understand what's behind those.”

Coddington wants parents to know that the district is working to reduce isolation and restraint incidents.

“We're not perfect, but we're having those conversations and we know it's going to continue. We know there's more work to do, and we're doing that work,” he said.

Parents who are already concerned about these incidents, however, are worried as SPS heads into the new school year. The district is facing 325 layoffs as changes in the educational funding model leave the district with an apparent budget deficit.

Do you have a tip for KREM investigators? Email investigators@krem.com.