About a year ago, an educator began raising concerns about the use of prone restraint and seclusion in the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD). It was pretty shocking at the time to learn that Vermont still allowed young disabled children to be forced to the ground and held in a prone restraint, a practice that has been prohibited in schools in most states around the country. Even more shocking was the excessive use of restraint and seclusion in Harwood schools.
If you are unfamiliar with the issue, prone restraint is the same type of physical hold that killed George Floyd and has killed many children in schools nationwide. Prone restraint is potentially deadly force and should never be used in a school anywhere. In fact, the use of any physical restraint should be quite rare. Federal guidance says that physical restraint should only be used in a crisis when all other options have failed, and it is needed to prevent imminent serious physical harm to the student or someone else. Imminent serious physical harm is a life-threatening situation. However, as we learned in Harwood Unified Union School District, it was most often used in non-life-threatening situations. Seclusion is forcing a child, generally a young disabled child, into a small room or area against their will and not letting them leave. This practice is extremely traumatizing and never an appropriate intervention.
There are far better ways to support children and staff when a child is in crisis. Many states have banned the practice.
Over the last year, the Board of Education and Superintendent, Dr. Michael Leichliter, have looked at this issue and taken many positive steps. I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Leichliter, who has taken strong measures to help teachers reduce the use of restraint and eliminate seclusion. In fact, Dr. Leichliter put a moratorium on the use of prone restraint and seclusion. Guess what happened? The sky did not fall. We did not see spikes in student behavior, and teachers were not put in jeopardy. Through strong leadership, Dr. Leichliter made a positive change for the students, teachers, and staff of Harwood Unified Union School District, and fewer children were restrained than in previous years.
It is time for the HUUSD Board of Education to put Dr. Leichliter’s work into policy. It is time to ban prone restraint and seclusion in HUUSD. Only there is one problem, there seems to be a belief that they can’t ban seclusion. What? That doesn’t make sense. Entire states have banned seclusion, and it is not currently allowed in the district. Why can’t a prohibition be put into policy? Apparently, the logic is that Rule 4500, the current statewide policy, says that seclusion can be used if physical restraint is contraindicated. This does not say seclusion has to be used, only that it can be used. I would suggest to the HUUSD Board Members that they reach out to experts on the issue of restraint and seclusion. I am certain that an attorney at the Department of Justice could offer valuable input, as they have in the investigations that are combating improper seclusion of students with disabilities in public schools through vigorous enforcement of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The truth is physical restraint should be contraindicated for all children, as it is potentially deadly force that can result in serious trauma (PTSD), injury, and even death.
There is another problem with the logic here. You see, seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student to a room or area that they are prevented from leaving. Seclusion is only ever intended to be used in potentially life-threatening situations. How do you get someone to a seclusion room? Most often, they are restrained and forced into the seclusion room. After all, if they were calm enough to walk in the room on their own, they should not be secluded. Saying that if we can’t restrain a child, we will force them into a seclusion room makes no sense. Seclusion is not a kinder or gentler approach. In fact, seclusion is arguably more psychologically harmful to children than restraint.
We need to look at this from a human perspective. The truth is restraint and seclusion put students, teachers, and staff at a greater risk of injury and trauma. Anything we can do to reduce the perceived need for restraint should be done, and it is being done in the district through trauma-informed training. Seclusion is never an appropriate intervention and should be banned from the district in the new policy. While Rule 4500 indicates you can use seclusion if restraint is contraindicated, it does not say you must. Harwood, you can and must do better; let’s ban prone restraint and seclusion across HUUSD schools.