Debate: Should Schools Ban the Use of Restraints and Seclusion?

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) released a report supporting the use of restraint and seclusion as disciplinary measures in schools to cope with dangerous incidents involving students with severe behavioral or emotional issues. In response, Equity, Opportunity and Inclusion for People with Disabilities (TASH) sent out a letter refuting the report, claiming that it contained an “abundance of destructive mischaracterizations and inaccuracies.”

AASA, according to its report, believes “the use of seclusion and restraint has enabled many students with serious emotional or behavioral conditions to be educated not only within our public schools, but also in the least restrictive and safest environments possible.” The group supports the safe and responsible use of restraint and seclusion by school personnel, only when circumstances demand their application.

A survey conducted by AASA found that:

  • 10% of respondents used seclusion and restraint more than 5% of the time in a single school year.
  • 97% of respondents said that staff who perform seclusion and restraint are either trained or certified in how to perform safe and appropriate seclusion and restraint.
  • 95% of school personnel who perform seclusion and restraint are trained in prevention and conflict de-escalation or positive behavioral interventions and supports.
  • 25% of school districts reported that at least 20 times in the last school year, an administrator, teacher, paraprofessional, aide or other school professional trained in proper seclusion and restraint techniques has been physically threatened or attacked by a student.
  • 30% of school districts responded that within the last five years, there have been at least five hospitalizations of school staff due to unanticipated behavioral outbursts by students.

According to AASA, if school districts were unable to use these techniques, students with severe behavioral and emotional disorders would have to be institutionalized or sent to private facilities where they might not have access to the same rights and services as they would receive in public school.

The report goes on to say that teachers and other school personnel would be injured more frequently if seclusion and restraint were prohibited.

However, TASH’s response to AASA’s report stated that AASA lacked evidence for its argument and that “a substantial and growing number of education researchers, child trauma experts and the Government Accountability Office principally agree that restraint and seclusion techniques are dangerous and traumatic for everyone involved, including teachers, other school personnel, students and other witnesses to the incident.”

TASH says that restraint and seclusion are most often used for punishment or convenience, not for emergencies. “Such techniques are disproportionately used on the most vulnerable children: those with significant disabilities, between ages 6 and 10 and children with no verbal expression. They are used because of attitudes about children that are not based in fact, and a fundamental lack of knowledge of behavior management strategies.”

Administrators who do not allow these techniques promote the development of skills to prevent emergencies caused by behavioral issues, according to the letter. “Positive Behavior Supports, which is recognized in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is a science-based practice that identifies the problem and leads to positive solutions. More than two decades of peer-reviewed studies have provided strong evidence of positive alternatives for addressing even the most serious behavior challenges, such as self-injury, aggression and property damage.”

The letter cites a survey of 837 parents whose children had experienced restraint or seclusion in public schools, in which more than 93% of parents reported signs of trauma.

Other statistics cited in the letter include:

  • 69% of restraint and seclusion incidents involve children under the age of 10
  • 70% of students subjected to these procedures have disabilities
  • Nearly 60% of those subjected to these procedures have limited or no speech or recognized means of communication, most typically caused by autism

    Read AASA’s report.

    Read TASH’s letter.

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