Special Education

Advocates Press Congress to Act on Restraints, Seclusion

By Nirvi Shah — March 20, 2012 2 min read
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A coalition of advocates for people with disabilities offered more criticism of a recent report by the American Association of School Administrators that touted the merits and necessity of using restraints and seclusion.

On Monday, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities picked apart the AASA report, which came on the heels of the first ever attempt to collect data on the frequency with which public school students are restrained or isolated in the name of keeping themselves or others safe. AASA’s report was based in part on a survey of its members, but as CCD points out, there isn’t any information about the survey or its methodology.

“With no source cited, the AASA simply asserts that 99 percent of school personnel use seclusion and restraint safely and only when needed. This assertion is not supported by any facts,” the Consortium wrote.

The group also attacked AASA for claiming that school staff members are well trained regarding the appropriate methods of restraining or secluding students.

“The survey does not distinguish between staff who receive a few hours of instruction and those who complete rigorous training and certification programs,” the letter says. “In fact, poorly trained or untrained staff were involved in several deaths and injuries reported by the [Government Accountability Office} and others. Only seven states mandate training in medical distress and first-aid, and only 18 states in safe and appropriate restraint/seclusion use (often without further definition of what this means).”

The Congressional bills will require training in evidence-based techniques and the dangers of seclusion and restraint, and provide needed funds for training personnel.”

CCD sent the letter to the U.S. House Education & the Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urging Congress to pass a federal law regulating the use of restraints and seclusion in schools. AASA opposes the federal proposals.

Their letter notes that of the students secluded or restrained at school, 70 percent have disabilities. Too often, the group said, these practices are used in non-emergency situations. Parents don’t know their children have had these experiences, and, in some cases, the children’s disability prevents them from telling their parents.

This is some of why CCD wants Congress to act:

Contrary to the AASA's assertions, the Keeping All Students Safe Act will provide vital national minimum standards that protect all school children nationwide. The bills will strengthen protections in every state. The bills will ban physical restraint except in emergency situations when there is an immediate threat of physical danger and less restrictive alternatives will not work. They will protect children from dangerous seclusion. Only 14 states limit the use of restraints to physical safety emergencies, and only 11 states either ban seclusion entirely or restrict it to physical safety emergencies. Under the two bills, schools will no longer be able to use these dangerous techniques to punish children, coerce compliance, for non-dangerous behavioral infractions, or in place of positive behavioral support or proper educational programming. Few states limit dangerous restraints, including those that impair breathing (15 states), mechanical restraints (15 states), and chemical restraints (10 states). The bills would ban those. The bills will require same-day parental notification. Only 12 states mandate this today. Other states delay far longer, and 27 states have no legal requirement to tell parents a child was restrained/secluded. Many parents never learn what happened to their child.

They also reminded lawmakers of a 2009 Government Accountability Office report that found that some students have been severely injured or killed because of the way schools tried to control them, sometimes using handcuffs, duct tape, or other devices. Some students have been pressed onto the floor face down as a form of restraint and have stopped breathing.

Between the GAO report and other compilations of horror stories, including several by the National Disability Rights Network, the CCD said it’s long overdue for Congress to act to ensure that restraint and seclusion are used only when truly necessary, and not in place of other methods that can work to calm a student, and never as discipline.

The AASA report has also been criticized heavily by TASH (formerly The Association for the Severely Handicapped).

It remains to be seen whether any of the fresh attention on the issue will prompt Congress to act. When the previous House bill—virtually identical to the current one—was put to a vote, it passed with wide support. The Senate bill hasn’t gone anywhere.

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