Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, responds to a question about the use of restraint and seclusion

Recently Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, answered a question about the use of restraint and seclusion at the 5th Annual Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools Conference. Unapologetic disrupter, Mathew Portell, asked the question.

Question: There are those that hold the belief that restraint and seclusion are necessary to maintain safety in the classroom. And by that, I don’t mean, peace corners, or mindfulness rooms. I mean the cruel use of putting kids in a room, dysregulated and struggling to work it out on their own.  The data seems to show that when hands-on approaches like physical restraint are used that we are more likely to see injuries to students, teachers, and staff. Many of the current approaches in our schools are failing the children who may have experienced trauma or are neurodiverse. How do we shift culture and training to support better approaches and how can the Department of Education lead that work?

Response: Thank you for the question and for the work you do. You know it’s really important to look at it in two ways, right. There are technical things we can do, and then there’s a value-related shift that we have to make in the profession.

We must recognize that when those restraints and seclusion events happen, it creates trauma.

I recall when I experienced as an educator for the last 20 years having to develop my own capacity for understanding better tools to address this. But it took me feeling that this was unacceptable, that this is not a good strategy when students are dysregulated, or we don’t have an environment that’s conducive to lessening events like that. So while at the federal level, I’ll tell you, the Office of Civil Rights and Office Special Education is working on new guidance that promotes better practices. I think it’s really important that we get reset on how we’re doing business in our districts now with funding from the Emergency rescue plan. The emotional wellbeing component of it has been elevated by our Department. My expectations. My expectation is that we think carefully about how we’re utilizing those funds to build the capacity of our districts, of our schools to not only provide good professional learning opportunities for our educators, and that includes central office leadership, building leadership, educators, parent educators, so that everybody in the school community has a better understanding of how to create trauma-informed form classrooms so that we’re not resorting to resorting to restraint and seclusion.

Unfortunately, in many cases, it looks like it’s used as a primary option. We have to change that mindset.

And that’s why I mentioned the importance of professional learning and creating a culture like what Joe and I tried to do in Connecticut, create a culture where we look at that as a problem. We look at that as us creating more traumatic experiences. And then I think on the flip side of that, another thing we have to do is be open and honest about the data that shows where we’re doing this and be honest about to whom we’re doing it. My estimate is that students that require special education and students of color are receiving more of restraint and seclusion than other students. That’s unacceptable. So you talk about being unapologetic; you talk about being disrupters. How do we provide professional learning on the front side of it, and how are we transparent and honest about the data on the back end of it to say we have an issue here and this is going to require change. At the Department of Education federally, we’re lifting up practices that prevent that. We’re lifting up data collection measures that look at this and look at it from different demographics and we’re recognizing that this is a moment now in our country’s history where trauma is higher than usual, and we cannot at the month March 2020, so we’re really pushing leaders at all levels to really invest in trauma-informed approaches that address both the social and emotional wellbeing of our students as well as the academic.


Please note the text was transcribed from the video, so it is possible that transcription errors may have been made.

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