Feds to states: reduce use of harmful restraints and seclusions

With thousands of students in Connecticut being physically restrained or secluded each year at school, the U.S. Department of Education is offering guidance for school leaders to cut down on these practices.

“Ultimately, the standard for educators should be the same standard that parents use for their own children,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “There is a difference between a brief time out in the corner of a classroom to help a child calm down and locking a child in an isolated room for hours. This really comes down to common sense.”

With 904 incidents in 2009, Waterbury puts more students into seclusion than any other district. The Capitol Region Education Council physically restrains more students than any district, with 2,313 reported incidents in 2009. School-by-school prevalence rates are also available.

Almost three years ago, Duncan sent state school leaders letters asking them to review and revise their state policies to avoid the “abusive and potentially deadly” use of restraints and seclusions.

Connecticut’s existing state law requires that school staff receive training before they restrain students and the use of a face-down prone restraints, which has resulted in numerous deaths nationwide and of Andrew McClain in Connecticut, is prohibited in schools.

But school officials reporting incidents of restraint and seclusion have not been as detailed as many child advocates would like. This year legislators overwhelmingly approved a bill that will require school officials to report and justify every time they physically restrain a student or place a child in seclusion. When the student involved in the incident is a special education student, officials will need to report if the method used falls in line with his education plan. It is unclear if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy intends to sign the bill into law.

The guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education, which is non-binding, includes 15 principals about restraints and seclusion for states to consider enacting;

  • Prioritize prevention
  • Never use mechanical restraints to restrict movement
  • Only do this when the student is in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others
  • Make sure policies are universal for all students, including special need students
  • Never use as a form of punishment, discipline or convenience
  • Never harm the student or restrict their breathing
  • Multiple uses should trigger an external review
  • Train staff regularly
  • Notify parents immediately
  • Document each instance