Law & Courts

Federal Ed Dept. Will Offer Guidance on Restraints, Seclusion

By Nirvi Shah — May 18, 2011 2 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education will for the first time give school districts guidance on when to use restraints and seclusion as ways on children with disabilities.

According to Disability Scoop, Alexa Posny, told a federal autism advisory committee Thursday that the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services will issue guidance to schools this fall and will also provide the first national data on the use of restraints and seclusion in schools.

“There are no federal regulations that exist, so it makes it very hard for us at the Department of Education to go out and say you can and can’t do this,” Ms. Posny told the safety subcommittee of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. “We have no role in enforcement at this point.”

Restraints and seclusion are intended to calm and protect students from harming themselves or others. But their use has been under scrutiny for several years and has been investigated by agencies including the Government Accountability Office.

Some states govern their use and others do not. Some individual school districts are developing rules as well. For example, on Wednesday, the Palm Beach County school district in Florida voted to make prone restraint—where a student is held face down with their arms and legs immobilized—allowed only as a last resort.

And in Kansas, the state board of education last week heard recommendations from the state special education advisory committee about restraints and seclusion. They suggested collecting data on the training schools use to teach about the measures and how often they are used. They also want to be sure that Kansas’ guidelines on using restraint and seclusion mirror the federal approach—although a federal approach doesn’t exist yet. The board will vote on the recommendations next month.

As I wrote last month, some U.S. Representatives resurrected a bill that would limit their use. The bill passed the House more than a year ago with bipartisan support, but the Senate never took up their version of the bill.

The one big difference in the current version of the House bill: It doesn’t have the co-sponsorship of Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican. Ms. McMorris Rodgers’ son Cole has Down syndrome. Last time around, she proudly supported the bill.

A recent report by TASH, formerly The Association for persons with Severe Handicaps, includes a number of incidents in which restraints and seclusion since last year’s bill led to a child being injured.

The title of the report? It’s called “The Cost of Waiting.”

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