School Climate & Safety

Seclusion and Restraints: Overblown Concerns?

By Christina A. Samuels — April 20, 2009 1 min read
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A blog reader, LadyJane66, added a lengthy response to the bottom of a blog entry I wrote in December. Because that post is now off the front page of this blog, I thought it was worth bringing up the comment for further discussion. The gist of the comment is that the report of the National Disability Rights Network on seclusion and restraints is inaccurate and doesn’t talk about the REAL problem, which is the issue of student-against-student violence, or student-against-teacher violence:

...The 100 or so incidences of potentially abusive uses of seclusion and restraint documented in NDRN’s Report span over at least a decade long period and include non-school incidents. These cases were reported by 57 protection and advocacy network offices presumably located across the country. If you average the number of incidents included in the Report over the 10 year period over which they were reported, you are looking at 10-20 cases of potentially abusive uses of seclusion and restraint annually. We now ask the public and Congress to compare this number to the actual number of violent incidents that may actually be occurring at this nation’s schools annually and multiply that number by the 10+ year period covered in NDRN’s Report. It is only by putting the examples cited in NDRN's Report into context that the scope of the overall issue of school violence and the need for school safety can be measured.

There’s a lot more where that came from, so I encourage you to read the whole comment. Quite a bit of the writing seems to echo the information at this relatively new website, The Truth About Prone Restraint.

When I wrote last week on seclusion and restraint, I had an opportunity to speak with Reece L. Peterson at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who is an expert on this issue. He brought up the issue of student attacks on teachers, and I wish I had been able to get into that more. Writing news articles always requires a careful balancing act on what gets in and what has to be left out, because there’s only so much space, so I’m glad I have the blog to explore issues further.

From reading its report, I don’t sense that the NDRN is suggesting that other violence in schools is unimportant. The organization has a specific mandate and is therefore going to focus on issues that affect its primary clientele. Here’s where I think there’s a disconnect -- there are clearly times when seclusion and restraint are *not* being used as a way to keep children or school staff from immediate harm; but as punishment for perceived misbehavior. I think that NDRN and LadyJane66 might agree that those situations do not appropriately call for either restraint or seclusion.

But is the focus on restraint and seclusion of students obscuring more important issues related to violence? Are restraints and seclusion as clearly bad as the NDRN suggests they are?

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