Dept. of Ed Issues Guidance on Restraint, Seclusion

The U.S. Department of Education issued a publication Tuesday outlining principles for educators, parents and other stakeholders to consider when developing or refining policies to support positive behavioral interventions and avoid the use of restraint and seclusion.

The goal of this resource document is to help ensure that schools are safe and healthy environments where all students can learn, develop and participate in instructional programs that promote high levels of academic achievement.

The 15 principles that frame the document ultimately highlight how school-wide behavioral interventions can significantly reduce or eliminate the use of restraint or seclusion. They are:

1. Every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint and for the use of seclusion.

2. Schools should never use mechanical restraints to restrict a child’s freedom of movement, and schools should never use a drug or medication to control behavior or restrict freedom of movement (except as authorized by a licensed physician or other qualified health professional).

3. Physical restraint or seclusion should not be used except in situations where the child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others and other interventions are ineffective and should be discontinued as soon as imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others has dissipated.

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

5. Any behavioral intervention must be consistent with the child’s rights to be treated with dignity and to be free from abuse.

6. Restraint or seclusion should never be used as punishment or discipline (e.g., placing in seclusion for out-of-seat behavior), as a means of coercion or retaliation, or as a convenience.

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

8. The use of restraint or seclusion, particularly when there is repeated use for an individual child, multiple uses within the same classroom, or multiple uses by the same individual, should trigger a review and, if appropriate, revision of strategies currently in place to address dangerous behavior; if positive behavioral strategies are not in place, staff should consider developing them.

9. Behavioral strategies to address dangerous behavior that results in the use of restraint or seclusion should address the underlying cause or purpose of the dangerous behavior.

10. Teachers and other personnel should be trained regularly on the appropriate use of effective alternatives to physical restraint and seclusion, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports and, only for cases involving imminent danger of serious physical harm, on the safe use of physical restraint and seclusion.

11. Every instance in which restraint or seclusion is used should be carefully and continuously and visually monitored to ensure the appropriateness of its use and safety of the child, other children, teachers, and other personnel.

12. Parents should be informed of the policies on restraint and seclusion at their child’s school or other educational setting, as well as applicable Federal, State or local laws.

13. Parents should be notified as soon as possible following each instance in which restraint or seclusion is used with their child.

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

15. Policies regarding the use of restraint and seclu­sion should provide that each incident involving the use of restraint or seclusion should be docu­mented in writing and provide for the collection of specific data that would enable teachers, staff, and other personnel to understand and implement the preceding principles.

“As education leaders, our first responsibility must be to make sure that schools foster learning in a safe environment for all of our children and teachers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “I believe this document is an important step toward this goal. I also want to salute leaders in Congress for their vigilance on this issue.”

“Ultimately, the standard for educators should be the same standard that parents use for their own children,” Duncan added. “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.”

The document also provides a synopsis of ongoing efforts by federal agencies to address national concerns about using restraint and seclusion in schools, and includes links to state restraint and seclusion policies and procedures.

“Conveying expectations and values through these principles is important. The mistake will be a ‘cut and paste’ approach to policy development at the school level,” Judith Schubert, CPI president, said. “School communities need to consider what procedures would be relevant and necessary for staff and students given their environment. Procedures then need to be translated through an ongoing training process that will give staff practical skills to apply in their decision making and help them balance their responsibilities for the care and safety of students.”

Read the full guidance.

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