An Open Letter to Harwood Unified Union School District from an Educator

It’s time to end seclusion

Today’s guest author is Brian Dalla Mura.

Brian is a special education teacher in Vermont. He holds a master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University. He has experience teaching students with emotional disabilities in kindergarten through high school. Brian began advocating for stronger and safer restraint and seclusion policies after witnessing prone restraints in his local school district where he worked and his child attends. 

My open letter to Harwood Unified Union School District

Dear HUUSD Board,

Thank you for being such strong advocates. I really see seclusion as a civil rights issue because of how it impacts students with disabilities.

The only reason I have heard from the administration and the board for keeping seclusion is “advice from legal counsel” and “liability.”

These reasons only protect the adults. What about the students? Are hypothetical scenarios about the district being held liable really worth secluding children? I would say protecting student’s with disabilities civil rights is worth the risk of being held liable for some unknown hypothetical scenario.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice has reached several settlements after investigating districts throughout the country regarding the inappropriate use of seclusion. A complete ban on seclusion was in every single settlement, even when state laws permitted its use. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sure the risk of being held liable is far greater for using seclusion than not using seclusion (unless there is a loophole in the policy to allow for its use). In fact, I can’t find a single case where any organization was held liable for not using seclusion. Do we need the Dept. of Justice to hold the district liable for using inappropriate seclusion in order to get a full ban?

Children never should have been put in closets at Brookside, and the policy should make sure that it NEVER happens again.

The current language is vague. It leaves a lot up for interpretation. During the discussion, the board talked about it needing to be in a plan, but the policy doesn’t state that.

Consider this scenario – a student is secluded and files a complaint. Can the district lawyer argue that restraint was attempted and failed and therefore contraindicated at that moment? I fear that the current language is intentionally vague to protect the district and not the children. Unfortunately, that’s the job of the lawyer.

Again, I think the protection of civil rights and just doing what is right is worth the risk of hypothetically being held liable for banning seclusion.

Apply this to past human rights or civil rights issues. This is what progress looks like. We must do what’s right.

I hope you reconsider and, at the very least, take a look at this one last time.


Brian Dalla Mura

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