Model Legislation Advocacy Toolkit

Restraint and seclusion are crisis management strategies that are used in many schools across the nation. Physical restraint is exactly what it sounds like, it is a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move their 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 trauma in students, teachers, and staff. Students have even died being restrained.

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.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. 

Maya Angelou

However, in practice, restraint and seclusion are used for discipline and compliance. They disproportionately impact children with disabilities, minorities, and boys. Often it is the youngest children that are most frequently restrained and secluded.

We can make classrooms across the nation safer for students, teachers, and staff by reducing and eliminating restraint and seclusion.

Our schools should be moving towards neurodevelopmentally informed, trauma-sensitive, biologically respectful, relationship-based ways of understanding, and supporting students

About the Toolkit

Based on a four-month review of over 50 sources of relevant literature and 35 interviews conducted with self-advocates, parents and caregivers, mental and trauma health experts, legislative, advocacy and educational experts, the authors of this toolkit found that restraint and seclusion appear to occur in a variety of institutional settings for the purpose of controlling perceived “behavioral challenges” presented by individuals receiving services.

The toolkit begins by reviewing the issues associated with the use of restraint and seclusion. We then share a few quotes from various stakeholders we interviewed. Next, we will present the model legislation that you can introduce to your state-level representatives. We attempt to demystify the process and help you craft your story along the way.

This toolkit provides you with model legislation that you can advocate for in your state or school district.

The development of this toolkit to create model state-level legislation was led by Guy Stephens, in collaboration with graduate interns from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

Who is Impacted?

It is critical to understand who is impacted by the use of restraint and seclusion.

Restraint and seclusion are used disproportionately on students with disabilities, Black and brown students, and boys.

Elementary school students are more likely to be restrained or secluded.

Children with a trauma background are more likely to be restrained and secluded.

Of the restraints reported to the Office of Civil Rights impacted children with disabilities.

Of the seclusions reported to the Office of Civil Rights impacted children with disabilities.

Lives are at stake

Cornelius Frederick, 16, died in a hospital two days after staff members at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, which houses children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, tackled Cornelius and restrained him for 12 minutes, allegedly for throwing a sandwich. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

Table of Contents

Download PDF version of the toolkit


This initiative to create model state-level legislation was led by Guy Stephens, the Executive Director and Founder of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, in collaboration with Graduate Interns Imene Bouziane Saidi and Abigail Werner from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Together, the team researched and drafted the toolkit, the model, and other advocacy resources between September and December 2021.

Bouziane Saidi and Werner would like to extend their deepest gratitude to their advisor, Dr. Lawrence Bailis, as well as the numerous individuals who volunteered their time to interview or contribute to this project in some form. Their generosity was critical to the success of this project.

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