Restraint and seclusion are crisis management strategies that are used in many schools across the nation and the world. Physical Restraint, is exactly what it sounds like, it is a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs or head freely. Seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. These interventions are dangerous and have led to serious injuries and even death in students, teachers and staff.
According to federal guidance restraint and/or seclusion should never be used except in situations where a child’s behavior poses an imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others, and restraint and seclusion should be avoided to the greatest extent possible without endangering the safety of students and staff. The important wording here is “serious physical harm”, these measures are not intended merely for unsafe situations, but rather to situations that could result in death or serious bodily injury. As such based on federal guidance restraint and seclusion should be exceedingly rare. However, it has been found that restraint and seclusion are occurring far more frequently in schools across the nation and are not always limited to situations that involve imminent serious physical harm.
How did these practices make their way into schools? It was not too long ago that most children with disabilities were not welcome in American schools. In 1970, schools in the United States educated only one in five children with disabilities, and many states had laws excluding most children with disabilities. In 1975, Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), which opened the schoolhouse doors for previously excluded children (U.S. Department of Education, 2022). As children with disabilities gained access to education, schools had to determine how to support those they had not previously served. Unfortunately, this resulted in restraint and seclusion practices being used in schools across the country.
You may have seen the recent article on NJ.com called “Inside the quiet rooms.” The article focused on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools throughout the state. If you read the article, you no doubt saw the references to Montclair Public Schools. A mother and a former Montclair educator were quoted in the story. Also quoted in the story was Montclair Superintendent Jonathan Ponds, who said, “Montclair School District follows applicable laws, Department of Education guidelines, and Montclair Board policies and regulations with respect to restraint and seclusion.”
I was invited to join the Waterbury Area Anti-Racism Coalition (WAARC) in April of this year to discuss the impact of trauma associated with the use of restraint and seclusion, and I have since followed the process of policy review by the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD). I am impressed by the depth and breadth of concerns presented by Brian Dalla Mura, special educator, as well as opinions shared by the WAARC, an opinion piece by the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, and by community members. These contributions clearly highlight the detrimental effects of prone restraint and seclusion on all children, with the most significant impact on children with disabilities, as well as children of color.
There is an opportunity to provide feedback to the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. You will find directions for providing feedback and feedback from the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint below. On May 6, 2022, OCR announced that it intends to propose amendments to the Department’s regulations at 34 C.F.R. pt. 104, implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. As part of this process, OCR is seeking written suggestions from the public about how best to improve the current regulations.
Back in the day, I would usually start my IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings with a statement like, “Restraint should be the last resort, or things will go downhill quickly.” Every year it seemed to get worse after the first restraint would happen. It was just the beginning of a long road ahead for my son, who is autistic, and has ADHD, anxiety, and PTSD. When he was in public school, he was restrained and secluded. He stopped doing all academics after being secluded and would elope almost daily. I was constantly on call to come up to school! Mason would tell me who would hold each leg and each arm. I guess I consider myself lucky he could tell me what happened. He has an elephant brain and maintains everything, which is a good and a bad thing.
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