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Jun 12

End Seclusion and Unnecessary, Dangerous Restraints in Schools. Our Children’s Lives Depend on It.

By Denise Stile Marshall, Executive Director, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. Special Education Articles Add comments
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Today, somewhere at a school near you, a child sits alone in a small, unvented room.  Maybe all day.  Sometimes in the dark.  Another has four adults sitting on their back; physically restrained for throwing noodles in the cafeteria.  Yet another is finally finished the school year, home for the summer, and afraid to go into his bedroom closet. His parents have no idea why.  And even more unthinkable and tragic, another child’s life may have just ended due to inappropriate and unnecessary restraint and seclusion used in school.

That’s abuse,” you say. We think so too.  “It can’t possibly happen in our schools.”  But it does, every day.  And according to the Office of Civil Rights, hundreds of thousands of times a year, disproportionately on students with disabilities. For example, recently reported OCR data indicates that of 131,990 instances of physical restraint tallied by the data collection in the 2009-2010 school year, 78.6%  involved students with disabilities, compared with 21% for other students. Yet just 12% of the students in the data set have disabilities.  Although seclusion and restraint are primarily associated with students eligible for special education, the data show those technique are used on all students.  Unfortunately, despite some progress at the state level, no federal law exists to protect all students from such abuse.

The evidence base clearly demonstrates that restraints and seclusion are traumatizing procedures that have caused injury and death and are, at best, a symptom of treatment failure.   A 2009 United States Government Accountability Office (USGAO) report substantiated anecdotal reports released earlier that year by COPAA, The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and the Alliance to Prevent Restraint Aversive Interventions and Seclusion (APRAIS).  In a recent article “Tied Up and Isolated in the Schoolhouse” in the Journal of School Nursing, Mohr, LeBel, O’Halloran, Preustch (2011) state:

“The 2009 USGAO report’s findings echoed those of the original 1999 report on R&S in psychiatric settings. This is troubling, insofar as much good has been achieved in reducing the use, misuse, injury, and death in mental health settings. Perhaps, after issuing positions, parameters, and regulations, the mental health community did not consider that children live in ecologies beyond those limited to psychiatric settings. They develop and live within a myriad of different systems. While their family has the most proximal influences, the school setting is a very close second.  Perhaps we, in the mental health arena, have paid insufficient attention to schools, assuming that schools could regulate and monitor their own. This has not been the case, and the education and school literature is notably quiet on the issue of restraint use in schools, save for a single article as of this writing (Ryan & Petersen, 2004). The psychiatric community has over a decade of experience to share with the education and school health services community, and as colleagues and child advocates, we have a mandate to help them consider why R&S abuse is happening to school children, to help ameliorate conditions for children and their families, and to suggest actions and approaches to the issue that have been shown to be effective in reducing these coercive and dangerous  measures.”

Recently, in May of 2012, The US DOE finally released a document outlining Fifteen Principles that are, in a large part, consistent with those outlined in a COPAA document originally published back in 2008: COPAA Declaration of Principles Opposing the Use of Restraint, Seclusion and Aversive Interventions.  Clearly, as suggested above,  US DOE incorporated the experience of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) with reducing, and in some cases eliminating, the use of restraint and seclusion in mental health facilities, which is a decidedly good first step.  However, the US DOE principles are, as a Department staff recently articulated, only “thoughtful encouragement; “ and will not be disseminated directly to schools.  This frankly, and disturbingly, stops short of what the Department could and should have done on the matter and demonstrates, once more, that our nation’s schools will simply NOT regulate and monitor on their own.

“What more can be done? ” you ask.  We must pass Federal legislation that provides protections for every child in school. To do so we need your help.  COPAA, along with many other school, parent, and national advocacy organizations  have been actively working  towards the passage of federal legislation that raises the bar of protection and safety in schools for all students.   We will not rest until all students are safe in the schoolhouse.

We need a powerful and escalating collective voice to insist that Congress pass federal legislation without delay.

Senator Tom Harkin (Chair, Health Education Labor and Pension Committee) introduced S. 2020 the Keeping All Students Safe Act to protect students from dangerous restraint and seclusion on December 16, 2011. A bipartisan hearing “Beyond Seclusion and Restraint: Creating Positive Learning Environments for All Students” cosponsored by Senators Harkin and Enzi is scheduled for June 28th

Representative George Miller (Ranking Member, House Education and Workforce Committee) introduced H.R. 1381, the Keeping All Students Safe Act in the House on April 6, 2011. The bill currently has bipartisan support, thanks to Rep. Gregg Harper, with 42 cosponsors.

We sincerely thank Rep. Miller and Senator Harkin for their staunch and continued leadership on this critical issue.  Passage of a federal bill will establish vitally-needed national minimum standards, including provisions that:

  • Ensure the safety of all students and school personnel
  • Promote positive school culture and climate.
  • Protect students from being locked in rooms or spaces from which they cannot exit..
  • Promote of effective intervention and prevention practices, emphasize training, de-escalation, conflict management, and evidence-based practices shown to be effective in prevention.
  • Restrict physical restraint to emergencies posing a serious threat of physical harm to self or other.
  • Prohibit use of these dangerous practices to punish children, coerce compliance, for behavioral infractions, or as a substitute for positive behavioral support or proper educational programming.
  • Prohibit the use when less restrictive measures would be effective in stopping the threat of harm.
  • Require that the imposition end when the emergency ends.
  • Ban restraints that are life threatening (including those that interfere with breathing), mechanical and chemical restraints, aversives that threaten health or safety, and restraints that interfere with the ability to communicate or which would harm a child.
  • Require that parental notification within 24 hours and require staff and family to debrief so as to prevent use in the future.
  • Require that states collect data, make it available to members of the public, and use the data to minimize further use of these techniques.
  • Protect teachers, staff, and parents from retaliation when they report violations of the law.
  • Prohibit including restraint as a planned intervention in Individual Educational Programs or other individualized planning documents.  (see COPAA Document on the critical importance of this provision here).
  • Preserve existing rights under state and federal law and regulation.

Existing laws alone have not protected students against such abuse and injury, though many do offer important protections.  Creating a national floor of protection will ensure that children are protected in every state.

Join us today in urging your elected officials to co-sponsor and pass H.R. 1381 and S. 2020.   Email your two Senators and Congressional Representative and ask them to COSPONSOR and pass the Keeping All Students Safe Act.    Ask your friends, family members, fellow advocates, and colleagues to do the same.


SENATE. You can email your Senators through their Senate website forms.    Go to http://1.usa.gov/Senat. You can find your two Senators by choosing your state at the top.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. You can find your Representative and send an email through the House website, http://1.usa.gov/HouseWrit.  You will need your zip code.

Please, send the email or call today. Our children’s lives depend on it. 

Denise Stile Marshall, M.S., Executive Director Denise graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Science. Denise has 30 years experience in the field of disabilities in a variety of support, management, and advocacy capacities. Prior to becoming the Executive Director of COPAA in 2005 Denise was the Director of Training and Educational Outreach for the national organization TASH, and a Positive Behavior Support specialist and Director of the National Training Center for The Kennedy Krieger Institute Community Services UCEDD in Maryland. Denise’s introduction into the power of advocacy was in her role as a positive behavior support specialist and master level crisis prevention specialist.  Denise knows firsthand the challenges some exhibited behaviors present; the difference it makes to train school personnel to design and implement positive behavior supports for students whose behavior endangers themselves and others; and the transforming effect and power of using only evidence based, positive supports and interventions.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates is a national non-profit, membership organization of over 1300 attorneys, advocates, related professionals, and parents whose mission is to be a national voice for special education rights and to promote excellence in advocacy. Our primary goal is to secure high quality educational services for children with disabilities. www.copaa.org   COPAA recently published a practitioners manual (2011):  The Right to be Safe In School: Advocacy and Litigation Strategies to Combat the Use of Restraint and Seclusion

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5 Responses to “End Seclusion and Unnecessary, Dangerous Restraints in Schools. Our Children’s Lives Depend on It.”

  1. An incredibly important post with a specific call to action. THANK YOU!

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  2. I just emailed my senator and representative. You can too. Only takes a moment – make your voice heard!

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  3. Thank you for this powerful call to action – we at Our Children Left Behind (www.ourchildrenleftbehind) fully support these efforts, and hope everyone can find a few moments to email their legislators – our kids’ lives truly do depend on it!

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  4. There are other ways to calm a child with a disability. Restraining these children are abuse. The safety of these children are important. They must not traumatize these children. Will affect them for the rest of there lives. On my cameras In Special Needs Classrooms site, I get stories of abuse to these children Daily. They can not defend themselves. Something needs to be done to stop this abuse being aloud or covered up in these classrooms and schools. Thank you for sharing your blog. Very interesting information that I can look into for Cameras in special needs classrooms. We send our children to school for there education, and trusting the staff who works with them. Children are coming home with bruises and no letter or call on what happen to them while in school. Some children are being killed do to restraints. :( Most these children have troubles in communication and it could be main reason for the meltdown, Some may just need a little snack to help them focus. These schools need a new lesson on how to calm a child during a meltdown. Catching a meltdown before getting worse, Try patience and rewards of good behavior. Works for my son. Thank you for your awareness. :)

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End Seclusion and Unnecessary, Dangerous Restraints in Schools. Our Children’s Lives Depend on It.

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