Fairfax County Public Schools reached a settlement with parents and advocacy groups over the treatment of students with disabilities, effectively ending a lawsuit that had lasted more than two years.

Three disability rights organizations — the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates, Autistic Self Advocacy Network and CommunicationFirst — and the families of six students with disabilities had sued in 2019, alleging that students with disabilities in Fairfax schools experienced discrimination, trauma and physical harm through the excessive and improper use of seclusion and physical restraint.

As part of the agreement reached Tuesday, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) will ban all seclusion practices and curtail its use of physical restraint by the next academic year, according to a news release from the parties involved in the suit.

“FCPS’s new policies recognize that the needs of students and the school system are bound together in a common purpose to foster the education, advancement, and maximization of learning and growth potential for all students, including those with disabilities,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.

The Northern Virginia system banned seclusion in most of its schools as of Jan. 1, but the settlement stipulates that no Fairfax school — nor any private school the district contracts with — will allow the practice by the 2022-2023 academic year. The agreement also bans forms of restraint that carry a high risk of injury, such as chokeholds or floor restraints.

Until the bans take full effect, parents can submit medical or psychological documentation that the practices would cause harm to their child, the news release said.

The parents and advocacy groups said the new policies will prevent trauma going forward for kids in FCPS, the largest school district in Virginia.

“These are voices of individuals who are vulnerable and are usually not heard,” said Jennifer Tidd, a parent involved in the lawsuit. “And I think that when they’re heard — when they’re accommodated appropriately — things like restraint and seclusion don’t have to happen.”

FCPS launched an investigation in 2019 into how often it used those practices, after a report by WAMU-FM (88.5) found hundreds of cases in which the school system failed to disclose how often it had restrained and secluded children.

Plaintiff Amanda Mills said that when her son was in kindergarten in FCPS, he was secluded in a makeshift box made of gym mats over 300 times. While he was placed in the box to protect himself from self-injury or harm, she said, he would come home with bruises because he would hit himself while he was secluded. Mills’s son, who communicates with an iPad, would also have the device taken away when secluded, leaving him without recourse for expressing his needs.

Eventually, Mills said, he could no longer go to school because he was too scared.

“I went into this because I didn’t want this to happen to other kids,” Mills said. “The experience we had was horrific, and I didn’t want other kids and other families to go through the same experience that we went through.”

Tidd said her son was secluded at least 745 times over seven years, causing long-term emotional and psychological damage. He grew scared of small spaces, she said, and now cannot have doors closed in the house and has nightly nightmares.

“When somebody has experienced this, it’s lifelong,” Tidd said.

After the parents’ allegations first were brought forward early in 2019, FCPS said, the district hired behavior-intervention teachers and told the auditor general to review its special education programs.

Fairfax schools also hired an ombudsman focused on overseeing the special-education program and hearing parents’ concerns, and began working with Ukeru Systems, a national crisis-intervention program that teaches schools alternatives to the use of restraint and seclusion.

“Since the allegations were made, FCPS has taken direct action to ensure the dignified and appropriate treatment of students with disabilities,” the Virginia school system said in a statement.

As part of the settlement, the school system additionally will work with Ross Greene, a noted child psychologist and educational expert who specializes in behavioral intervention.