Seclusion and restraint are highly dangerous interventions that have led to death, injury, and trauma in children.
Jessica Bulter – My updated report, How Safe Is The Schoolhouse? An Analysis of State Seclusion and Restraint Laws and Policies, has been published by the Autism National Committee. The January 20, 2014 report contains information updated through January 2014 about state restraint and seclusion statutes, regulations, and policies.
The purpose of How Safe is the Schoolhouse is to analyze and compare state restraint and seclusion laws and guidance and provide information on trends (e.g. the number of states with a particular feature and exceptions to that feature). Seclusion and restraint are highly dangerous interventions that have led to death, injury, and trauma in children. They stand in sharp contrast to positive behavioral support programs and de-escalation techniques that resolve most challenging situations. More states adopted statutes and regulations restricting use of restraint and seclusion in 2013. The report examines how the majority of states still operate under weak laws and laws with loopholes that undermine seemingly-strong protections. It also analyzes features of strong laws and proposals that would protect children and create positive learning environments.
How Safe is the Schoolhouse uses 51 “states” to include the District of Columbia. The report finds that as of January 2014:
- Only 19 states have laws providing meaningful protections against both restraint and seclusion for all children; 32, for children with disabilities.
- Only 14 states by law require that an emergency threatening physical danger exist before restraint can be used for all children; 18, for children with disabilities. Restraint must be limited to these emergencies because it is dangerous; the GAO documented the deaths of 20 children from restraint alone. Many state laws have loopholes that circumvent protections.
- There are 34 states that in their laws or guidance would define seclusion as a room a child cannot exit (door is locked, or blocked by furniture, equipment, child-proofing, staff, etc.). There are 11 states that protect all children from non-emergency seclusion; 17 protect children with disabilities. By law, only 1 state bans all seclusion for all children; 4, for children with disabilities. Another 10 have statutes and regulations applicable to all children that limit seclusion to emergencies threatening physical harm. 13 apply this standard to children with disabilities. Seclusion is highly dangerous. Students have died, attempted suicide, and been injured and traumatized. Students have been secluded for hours each school day and repeatedly.
- Only 17 states by law require that less intrusive methods either fail or be deemed ineffective before seclusion/restraint are used on all children; 23, children with disabilities. By contrast, in school districts and schools where positive behavioral support programs are used, restraint and seclusion use is minimal, if at all. Behavior improves and more students spend time learning–rather than in confinement rooms and restraint.
- Restraints that impede breathing and threaten life are forbidden by law in only 21 states for all children; 28 states, for children with disabilities. Mechanical restraints include chairs and other devices that children are locked into; duct tape, bungee cords, ties, and rope used to restrain children; and other devices. Only 15 states ban mechanical restraint for all children; 19 for students with disabilities. Only 15 states ban dangerous chemical restraints for all children. Children locked and tied into mechanical restraints and confined in seclusion rooms at particularly grave risk.
- In 20 states, schools must by law notify all parents of both restraint and seclusion; in 32, parents of students with disabilities. The vast majority of states favor notification in 1 day or less, either in their laws or recommended policies. (See Parental Notification Laws at a Glance, p.38). It is important to notify parents quickly, so they can seek medical care for injuries (hidden or obvious) and trauma. Notification also enables parents to work with schools to implement positive supports and prevent further use of restraint or seclusion.
- Data collection is very important. In its 2009 report, the GAO found that state data collection varied significantly. Only 12 states collect even minimal data for all students; 19 for students with disabilities. More states require data keeping at the state, local, or school level, indicating that keeping such records is not burdensome. Data gives schools benchmarks to measure themselves against and enables public oversight and sunshine.
States that took action in 2013 included Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington. Delaware’s law, unfortunately, permits the state to waive its ban on seclusion and mechanical restraint with few limitations. The state is expected to write regulations which will further clarify state practices. In addition, Arizona adopted a new statute providing some limited protections from seclusion, and Alaska finalized its prior draft nonbinding guidance. California made limited, nonsubstantive changes to its restraint and seclusion regulations. Louisiana drew its protections more narrowly around students with disabilities, exempting gifted children (also considered children with exceptionalities). This move is opposite the trend of states seeking to protect all students from these practices.
How Safe is the Schoolhouse is updated twice a year. The next update will be in Summer 2014, when several state legislative sessions end. The report can be found free of charge at
For people who simply want to quickly see very brief highlights their own state law or policy, there is a sister report, My State’s Seclusion & Restraint Laws (http://www.autcom.org/pdf/MyStateRestraintSeclusionLaws.pdf). It is updated on its own schedule due to the amount of work required to produce these documents.