Thursday, March 15, 2012

Seclusion, Restraints & Students with Disabilities

A new report (see figure below) from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has made public that 70% of the public school students subjected to physical restraint and seclusion are students with disabilities.

Iowa's Senator Tom Harkin is sponsoring a bill called the Keeping All Students Safe Act.  It would ban seclusion and confinement of children in locked rooms or spaces from which they cannot exit, and restrict physical restraint to emergencies posing a threat of serious bodily injury to self or other. Schools will no longer be able seclusion and restraint as ways punish children, coerce compliance, for behavioral infractions, or as a substitute for positive behavioral support or proper educational programming. These means would not be options when less restrictive measures would be effective. They would not be permitted to be used for hours. The bill would ban restraints that are life threatening (including those that interfere with breathing), mechanical and chemical restraints, and aversives that threaten health or safety, and restraints that interfere with the ability to communicate or which would harm a child.  The full text of the Keeping All Students Safe Act is available

Iowa is among the states that has laws that generally limit public and private school employees in regard to applying physical contact or force to enrolled students, and require that any such force or contact is reasonable and necessary under the circumstances. These rules also provide requirements for administrators and staff of public schools, accredited nonpublic schools, and area education agencies regarding the use of physical restraints and physical confinement and detention.

These laws bar the use of mechanical restraints, and include misusing physical devices that are meant for safety, therapy, or another purpose for disciplinary purposes. Material restraints cannot be used to confine a student. While "necessary and reasonable" force may be used, these terms are defined by the context of the event, and the Iowa Department of Education notes that, for example, restraining a student for tearing up a paper is unreasonable and unnecessary force.

If school personnel decide to seclude or physically confine a student, the room must be of adequate size, sufficient light, adequate ventilation, and temperature similar to the rest of the building. The door to the room must be nonlocking and allow for easy exit; it may not be disabled by duct tape or chairs.

The period of time for confinement is to be "reasonable" and "allow for bodily needs."  Adequate and continuous adult supervision is necessary, and if the confinement is longer than one class period or 60 minutes, an administrator must authorize the continued confinement.

If school personnel use restraint or seclusion with a student, the parents must be notified that same day and in writing within 3 days.  They must be shown the documentation of the incident, provided with the name of all school employees involved, and the administrator authorizing further confinement.

To view the full text of the Office of Civil Rights report, visit

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