The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has made information available regarding the use of seclusion and restraint in public school and public school-funded settings for the use of educators, policy makers, parents, and concerned citizens alike. Click here to see this content.
All of it is important for parents and educators of special education students. I’m going to summarize a few key points here because it is so important, but realize that the federal info linked to above is far more comprehensive and includes additional resources that educators and parents can use that I’m not duplicating here.
First, USDOE has identified 15 key principles that it believes schools and parents throughout the country should consider when it comes to seclusion and restraint. Those 15 key principles are as follows:
- Every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint and for the use of seclusion.
- Schools should never use mechanical restraints to restrict a child?s freedom of movement, and schools should never use a drug or medication to control behavior or restrict freedom of movement (except as authorized by a licensed physician or other qualified health professional).
- Physical restraint or seclusion should not be used except in situations where the child?s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others and other interventions are ineffective and should be discontinued as soon as imminent danger?of serious physical harm to self or others has dissipated.
- Policies restricting the use of restraint and seclusion should apply to all children, not just children with disabilities.
- Any behavioral intervention must be consistent with the child?s rights to be treated with dignity and to be free from abuse.
- Restraint or seclusion should never be used as punishment or discipline (e.g., placing in seclusion for out-of-seat behavior), as a means of coercion or retaliation, or as a convenience.
- Restraint or seclusion should never be used in a manner that restricts a child?s breathing or harms the child.
- The use of restraint or seclusion, particularly when there is repeated use for an individual child, multiple uses within the same classroom, or multiple uses by the same individual, should trigger a review and, if appropriate, revision of strategies currently in place to address dangerous behavior; if positive behavioral strategies are not in place, staff should consider developing them.
- Behavioral strategies to address dangerous behavior that results in the use of restraint or seclusion should address the underlying cause or purpose of the dangerous behavior.
- Teachers and other personnel should be trained regularly on the appropriate use of effective alternatives to physical restraint and seclusion, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports and, only for cases involving imminent danger of serious physical harm, on the safe use of physical restraint and seclusion.
- Every instance in which restraint or seclusion is used should be carefully and continuously and visually monitored to ensure the appropriateness of its use and safety of the child, other children, teachers, and other personnel.
- Parents should be informed of the policies on restraint and seclusion at their child?s school or other educational setting, as well as applicable Federal, State, or local laws.
- Parents should be notified as soon as possible following each instance in which restraint or seclusion is used with their child.
- Policies regarding the use of restraint and seclusion should be reviewed regularly and updated as appropriate.
- Policies regarding the use of restraint and seclusion should provide that each incident involving the use of restraint or seclusion should be documented in writing and provide for the collection of specific data that would enable teachers, staff, and other personnel to understand and implement the preceding principles.
All of this sounds like common sense but this is not what is consistently done, even in states with pretty specific regulations regarding seclusion and restraint. God help the kids in states where it’s still legal to beat them with paddles when they engage in inappropriate behaviors.
As for item #4, I think this becomes relevant to our kids with special needs when you take into account the rate of bullying by “typical” peers of children with handicapping conditions, which includes physical assault. It is entirely appropriate to place a student in a safe restraint to prevent him/her from assaulting another child regardless of eligibility.
That said, it’s been my experience that these “typical” assailants are actually usually kids with some significant mental and/or emotional health issues that have simply gone unidentified by their school districts in the utter absence of “child find.” So, really, our special needs kids are usually victims of victims.
You can find the above 15 key principles in USDOE’s resource document via the link given in the first paragraph above. Included in this resource document is a lot of other useful information, as well.
In addition to its resource document, USDOE links to the 2009 GAO report that we’ve linked to repeatedly since it came out in May 2009. As we previously reported, in the GAO report is the story of Cedric Napoleon (not named in the report, but you can view an article about him by clicking here) who was murdered by his teacher in 2002 during an inappropriate restraint. Cedric was a student of Killeen Independent School District (“KISD”). His foster mother’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and Labor can be found by clicking here.
KISD operates “alternative” classes and schools for students who consistently fail to follow school rules; these schools are disproportionately occupied by African-American students. There was no data on the percentage of these students who are in special education or should be. We note that Cedric was African-American.
We are now working with the family of another student of KISD who has been grossly mistreated at school to prevent her from suffering continued emotional harm, though her experience hadn’t quite gotten to the point of serious physical injury or, obviously, death. She is African-American, as well. Her cousin, also African-American,?had his shoulder dislocated during an inappropriate restraint while a special education student of the same District, according to the family. He was also?was an eye witness to Cedric’s murder in 2002.
Needless to say, her family has been concerned for her welfare throughout all of this and she has now been unilaterally placed by her family in an private school while things get worked out. We’ve been working with an advocate and an attorney in Texas, as well as with several state and federal regulators, to achieve an appropriate outcome?but it’s still a work in progress.
What’s also potentially valuable in the USDOE information linked to in the first paragraph above is its “Summary Table of Seclusion and Restraint Statutes, Regulations, Policies and Guidance, by State and Territories.” I say “potentially” because it looks like this content is a few years old and not necessarily current, but if things have been moving at the normal pace of government since this content was posted, it could very well still represent the current status of things.
In any event, as parents and educators move forward to overhaul the system with respect to the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraints, all this information from USDOE stands to serve as an important resource for these endeavors. But, until federal legislation is passed to standardize behavioral interventions in our public schools regardless of state or territory, we’re going to continue to see disparity in how students are treated depending on where they live and that disparity means that students in states or territories where the laws are more lax are more likely to suffer or cause preventable harm.