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Question of the Month ~ September 2015


Q. What laws and regulations do states have in place regarding schools’ use of restrictive procedures such as “seclusion” and “restraint”?

Over the past decade and a half, via legislation and/or administrative rules, many states in the Midwest have established new standards, training requirements and limits on the use of these procedures, which are typically used in response to serious behavioral problems exhibited by students.
This trend continued in 2015 with actions taken by the Kansas Legislature. Under HB 2170, signed into law in May, physical restraint or seclusion can only be used on students when they present a “reasonable and immediate danger of physical harm” to themselves or others.
By March of next year, the Kansas Board of Education must adopt rules and regulations on the use of “emergency safety interventions.” In August, the board gave initial approval to the new statewide parameters.
HB 2170 also has some of the same provisions included in many other recently adopted state laws: for example, parents must be notified when seclusion or restraint has been used on their child, and local schools and the state Department of Education must report the incidents and compile data on them.
The U.S. Department of Education defines physical restraint as “a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs or head freely,” and seclusion as “the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.”
These restrictive procedures are disproportionately employed on students with disabilities — 70 percent of all restraint incidents during the 2009-10 school year, the U.S. Department of Education reports.
In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified several hundred cases of alleged abuse, including deaths, related to the use of restraint or seclusion in the nation’s schools. The GAO report’s findings have been one of the factors driving the recent push for new state and federal laws.
HR 927, introduced earlier this year in the U.S. Congress, would limit restraint and seclusion to emergency situations in schools across the country. The legislation would also require parental notification, data collection and training.
But absent a new federal law, policy decisions are left to state legislatures, state boards of education, and/or local school administrators and officials. The Autism National Committee lists Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Wisconsin among the 25 U.S. states with “meaningful protections” to protect all children from seclusion and restraint. (According to the group’s July 2015 study, Minnesota’s “meaningful protections” extend only to children with disabilities.)
These states, for example, have legally binding restrictions limiting the use of restraint and seclusion to emergency situations and/or requiring that less-restrictive measures be tried first. Some state laws outright ban certain types of restraints — prone restraint (placing a student in a face-down position) is prohibited in Iowa and Ohio, and Indiana and Wisconsin forbid any restraint that impairs breathing.
More states are also requiring that school personnel receive training in how to de-escalate conflicts (Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin) or how to safely and appropriately use seclusion and physical restraint (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota).


Article written by Tim Anderson, CSG Midwest publications manager. Question of the Month highlights a research inquiry received by CSG Midwest.