Mat-Su School District sued over restraint and seclusion practices

Class desks in front of clear windows with alternated yellow and blue tints
A classroom at Dena’ina Elementary School, which opened in 2016 (Mat-Su Borough School District photo)

A Wasilla student’s parents are suing the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District over the restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities, in the third federal lawsuit against the district in as many weeks.

Represented by the Northern Justice Project – the civil rights firm behind two separate lawsuits filed against the district in November – Shane Land and Christi Angelo are suing on behalf of their son, a student with a disability in the district, whom they say was repeatedly restrained and placed in seclusion at Shaw Elementary School in Wasilla. According to the lawsuit, filed Dec. 4, that was against state law and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit also names three individual school staff members as defendants.

In a written statement from the Northern Justice Project announcing the lawsuit, the parents say it was filed as a class action suit to “protect every child in the Mat-Su Borough” and that they encourage other parents whose children have experienced similar issues to come forward.

The suit alleges that Angelo and Land’s son was injured March 7 when he was restrained using prohibited techniques and left in seclusion. The parents say they were told their son had been hurt in a fall at school, but, according to the lawsuit, surveillance footage showed the student had been dragged into a seclusion room known as the “Zen Den” at Shaw. They also claim that, despite mandatory reporting of restraint and seclusion, the parents were not notified in accordance with state law.

Jillian Morrissey, a spokesperson for the district, declined to comment Tuesday because the district had not yet been served with the complaint.

In February, the Anchorage School District settled a similar case with the Department of Justice for the improper use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities. Across the country, the department has reached settlement agreements with seven school districts for illegal restraint and seclusion over the last six years.

The lawsuit is the third against the Mat-Su School District since Nov. 17, when six parents and six students sued over the removal of 56 books from library shelves. Then, on Nov. 30, two students sued claiming the district had violated their constitutional right to free speech.
The school district has also not responded to requests for comment in either of those lawsuits.

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at or 907-550-8487. Read more about Tim here

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