School Climate & Safety

Report on Necessity of Restraints, Seclusion ‘Reckless,’ Advocates Say

By Nirvi Shah — March 13, 2012 3 min read
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A new report from the American Association of School Administrators about the importance of being able to restrain and seclude some students in the interest of school safety has outraged some disability advocacy groups.

The AASA report, “Keeping Schools Safe: How Seclusion and Restraint Protects Students and School Personnel,” describes scenarios in which parents said without the use of these methods, they may have had to institutionalize their children. The report also describes scenarios in which students injured school employees so badly they needed emergency medical care.

However TASH says the AASA report “is unsubstantiated, ill-informed and reckless.” TASH, formerly The Association for the Severely Handicapped, was particularly incensed over a statement in AASA’s report that implies that the choice for some students is to either be restrained and/or isolated or institutionalized.

These methods are supposed to be used when students, who may or may not have disabilities, are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else at school. But they have been criticized because some students have been injured or died while isolated or restrained. The use of mechanical restraints, which could range from handcuffs or rope to special devices designed for this purpose, is especially contentious.

New data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights finds that typically, students who are restrained or secluded have disabilities.

Too often, TASH said, these strategies are used to discipline students, not keep them or school employees safe. A 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office found “hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on school children during the past two decades.”

“The unfortunate reality is, there are individuals in school systems that make a variety of mistakes—sometimes intentionally—that hurt children,” Sasha Pudelski, author of the AASA report told me last week. “We would never support those actors.”

TASH is encouraging people to download their letter and share it with friends and colleagues affected by this issue, teachers, and school administrators, and other media.

The group finds fault with the AASA’s portrayal of restraints and seclusion as being necessary to keep school employees safe without enough emphasis on the implications of these methods.

“Even in instances in which the student is not injured, he or she typically has evidence of trauma,” their letter says. “In a survey of 837 parents whose children had experienced restraint or seclusion in public schools, more than 93 percent reported signs of trauma.”

Instead of protecting the practice of restraints and seclusion, TASH says, AASA should empower school leaders to use other strategies.

“School administrators have the authority and power to exert the leadership necessary to keep restraint and seclusion from occurring in schools. Why don’t they?” the group’s letter says. “In one school, an administrator set the tone by establishing a philosophy that restraint and seclusion were a failure of the school to meet the needs of students. This approach drove down rates of restraint and seclusion dramatically, nearing and reaching zero within the first years.”

These surely will not be the last words on this contentious topic. In fact, just today, the Wisconsin state legislature today passed a bill regulating the use of restraint and seclusion. (It still needs the governor’s signature.)

And last week, Disability Rights Texas filed a Texas Education Agency complaint against the New Caney Independent School District for what it called the district’s “culture of harsh discipline measures and ineffective educational programming” for children with disabilities, including inappropriate and prolonged use of restraint and seclusion in the classroom.

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