Much-anticipated fed guide on restraint of disabled gets panned

New guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools has already drawn criticism from one leading advocacy group as being too weak." The federal resource guide, issued earlier this week, offers public school administrations a core of 15 principles focused on the use of schoolwide behavioral interventions that can cut down or eliminate use of restraint or seclusion.

They are meant to be a framework for states, districts and other education leaders developing appropriate policies related to restraint and seclusion to ensure the safety of children and adults.

The message from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is that common sense should prevail.

"Ultimately, the standard for educators should be the same standard parents use for their own children," Duncan said in a statement. "There is a difference between a brief timeout 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."

School managers and advocates for the disabled have been at odds over the use of restraint or seclusion for years - but the debate heated up in March when the American Association of School Administrators issued a controversial policy paper arguing that seclusion and restraint are "necessary tools in the toolbox of school personnel."

That paper drew sharp rebuttal from groups like the TASH, based in Washington D.C. and the National Disability Rights Network.

But both sides soon turned their criticism to the federal education department for not providing enough leadership on the issue.

As far as the Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions and Seclusion - a group affiliated with TASH - is concerned, the latest effort from federal regulators is still lacking.

"Although the values put forth in the Department's principles are encouraging, APRAIS firmly believes more should be done to prevent the continued abuse of children in our schools," the organization said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The alliance also contends the new document lacks teeth.

"The Department's 15 principles offer clear direction to schools and districts on evidence-based practices that are known to prevent and eliminate restraint and seclusion use," the statement reads. "However, since it appears only as a resource document, these principles are not enforceable, and do not explicitly prevent, reduce or eliminate aversive practices used against children."

Still, the federal report offers at least some new guidance in an arena of education rife of complications.

Foremost, the guide emphasizes that using restraint or seclusion should be a last resort for educators, noting, "Every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint and for the use of seclusion."

Other principles are:

⢠Schools should never use mechanical restraints to restrict a child's freedom of movement and should never use drugs or medication to control behavior or restrict freedom of movement, except as authorized by a licensed physician or qualified health professional.

⢠Physical restraint or seclusion should not be used except in situations where other interventions are ineffective and a child's behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others. Their use should end as soon as the imminent danger of serious physical harm dissipates.

⢠Policies restricting use of restraint and seclusion should apply to all children, not just children with disabilities.

⢠Any behavioral intervention must be consistent with a child's right to be treated with dignity and free from abuse.

⢠Restraint or seclusion should never be used as punishment, discipline, a means of coercion or retaliation, or a convenience.

⢠Restraint or seclusion should never be used in a manner that restricts a child's breathing or harms the child.

⢠Use of restraint or seclusion, particularly when used repeatedly for an individual child, within the same classroom, or by the same individual, should trigger a review and, if appropriate, revised strategies to address dangerous behavior

⢠If positive behavioral strategies are not in place, staff should consider their development.

⢠Behavioral strategies to address dangerous behavior that result in using restraint or seclusion should address the underlying cause of the dangerous behavior.

⢠Teachers and other personnel should be trained regularly on the appropriate use of effective alternatives to physical restraint and seclusion and on the safe use of physical restraint and seclusion.

⢠Whenever restraint or seclusion is used, it should be monitored carefully and continuously, to ensure the appropriateness of its use and safety of the child and others.

⢠Parents should be informed of policies on restraint and seclusion at their child's school, as well as applicable federal, state, and local laws.

⢠Parents should be notified as soon as possible following any instance when restraint or seclusion is used with their child.

⢠Policies regarding use of restraint and seclusion should be reviewed regularly and updated as appropriate.

⢠Policies regarding use of restraint and seclusion should provide that each incident involving their use should be documented in writing and provide for collection of specific data to help school personnel understand and implement the preceding principles.

To read the entire resource document, which includes links to state restraint and seclusion policies and procedures, see

To view previous Cabinet Report stories on this topic, see more