School & District Management

How Many States Are Following Federal Restraint and Seclusion Guidelines?

By Christina A. Samuels — April 21, 2017 2 min read
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Students with disabilities represent 12 percent of all students, but 67 percent of students who are restrained or secluded. But while federal policy governs many aspects of how to educate students in special education, there’s no similar mandate governing the use of restraint and seclusion.

The closest that lawmakers came was in 2010, when the House of Representatives passed federal restrictions, but the bill ultimately died in the Senate.

That wasn’t the last the federal government had to say on the matter, however. Though it doesn’t have the force of law, the U.S. Department of Education in 2012 released “Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document,” in which it outlined 15 principles that states should consider using when creating their own policies and procedures.

A recent analysis of state laws that was published in the Journal of Disability Studies shows that states have indeed used the resource document as a guide for state law, as the Education Department intended.

But the analysis, published in March, also shows that states have adopted the 15 principles unevenly, and some of them have been included in state law more than others.

You can read the full report, “Analysis of Restraint and Seclusion Legislation and Policy Across States: Adherence to Recommended Principle,” here.

Restraint and Seclusion Policy Varies Across States

The report notes that 32 states have laws prohibiting restraint unless the student is a danger to himself or others, making it the most widely adopted of the Education Department principles. Six states have laws requiring regular staff training on restraint and seclusion, another principle. But only 3 states have laws stating that policies must be regularly reviewed and updated

The principles are somewhat more widely adopted by states as policy recommendations, rather than laws. But policy recommendations don’t carry the same weight that actual laws do, meaning that what happens at the district level can vary a lot. Earlier research suggests that district or individual school practices play a far larger role in whether students are restrained and secluded than any statewide law or prohibition.

Report authors Teri A. Marx and Joshua N. Baker note that more states have started to adopt restraint and seclusion policies and laws. Their recommendation? States should continue that work.

The Education Department document “is presently the best source of guidance for states to consider for reducing the use of restraint/seclusion and for promoting safe learning environments,” they conclude.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.