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Investigation shows schools’ persistent use of ER trips to discipline kids with disabilities

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As part of an investigation into discipline disparities experienced by kids with disabilities, advocates kept telling Washington, D.C.-based AP Education writer Annie Ma and The Hechinger Report’s Meredith Kolodner about an increase in “emergency petitions.” That’s when a school orders a child to go to the ER for a psychiatric evaluation.

To quantify the use of emergency petitions, Ma and Kolodner requested data from law enforcement departments. Ma and Kolodner met with advocacy groups, attended community events, posted social media callouts and more to build the relationships they needed to show the emotion behind the numbers.

After dozens of interviews, they were able to show the terror that a mother felt seeing her child in handcuffs, and the escalation that happened when teens with disabilities were denied opportunities to calm down in ways that met their disability accommodations.

The story led an all-education treatment at the top of APNews, garnering nearly 100,000 pageviews in total and landing in the site’s daily Top 10.

It was named one of the best stories of the week by “The Grade,” a well-read education blog. After the story published, a Maryland disability rights advocate reached out to the reporters. A state senator, the advocate said, had read the article and was inquiring about law enforcement’s role in the high number of emergency petitions, and asking about the possibility of making an exception so youth don’t have to be handcuffed as part of the protocol.

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