Restraints & Seclusion: That’s Not Education

It was exactly a year ago today that the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) unveiled “School Is Not Supposed to Hurt,” a national report on the use of seclusion and restraint in U.S. schools and called on the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress to introduce a national ban on seclusion and prone restraint practices in schools in the US. (Go here for a PDF file of the report.) Another report released in May from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found “hundreds of allegations that schoolchildren have been abused, and some even died, as a result of inappropriate uses of seclusion and restraint in classrooms.”

This report found that such “abusive practices” had been used “disproportionately on children with disabilities”—on those most vulnerable and (especially in the case of children like my son, who is minimally verbal) often unable to communicate to their parents what has happened.  

On December 9 of 2009, new legislation was proposed to stop these harmful and dangerous practices. The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247) prohibits the use of restraints and seclusion in public schools in the US. Physical restraint and seclusion would only be permitted in cases of “imminent danger of injury, and only when imposed by trained staff.” Further, should these be used, parents must be notified immediately—my husband and I were once informed that a “four-person floor control” restraint was used on our son over two weeks after this had occurred. 

In addition, a child should be examined by a nurse or other medical personnel after restraints and seclusion have been used. At my son’s previous public middle school in a central New Jersey school district, he was never examined by the school nurse after restraints had been used. 

H.R. 4247 also prohibits schools from “including restraint or seclusion as planned interventions in student’s education plans, including Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).”  The Wrightslaw website notes that the American Association of School Administrators and other organizations are lobbying to weaken H.R. 4247 and to allow schools to put such “abusive interventions” as restraints and interventions in students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Restraints and seclusion should only be used in crisis situations when all other interventions have been exhausted. As Wrightslaw notes, IEPs are not a “backdoor” for school districts” to “get around statutes.” 

“Too often, parents have been misled into consenting to restraint and seclusion in IEPs only to find out their children have been abused, injured, and traumatized.”

Further analysis of H.R. 4247 by Jessica Butler, an attorney and the mother of an autistic child, can be found here. Butler is a former Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates(COPAA) and the author of Unsafe in the Schoolhouse: Abuse of Children with Disabilities (COPAA 2009). 

Why we need H.R. 4247 is made all too clear by an article in the December 2009 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel according to which the Greenfield school district in Wisconsin is using federal stimulus funds earmarked for special education to construct seclusion rooms. As Wrightslaw blog notes, these funds would be “better spent training teachers on methods of controlling special-education student behavior without removing kids from their peers”—better spent on teaching teachers to teach students, rather than building what amount to isolation rooms. 

Seclusion and restraints are inhumane practices that have been unjustly and unnecessarily used on students, on children, on children with disabilities, and on children on the autism spectrum in public schools in the US. Such practices have caused permanent harm, psychological as well as physical. It is inconceivable that children, and especially children with disabilities, are being subjected to such and also to isolation intimeout rooms, sometimes for hours; to practices that seem more like punishment, if not torture, and that are certainly a far, far cry from being “educational.”





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Photo of classroom by dave_mcmt.
Kristina Chew, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Classics at Saint Peter's College in New Jersey. Since 2005, she has been blogging about autism, disabilities, and education, previously at Autism Vox and now at We Go With Him, a daily journal about life with her 12 1/2 year old son Charlie.


Angel Sch
Past Member 8 years ago

I've noted, thanks :).
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Linda M.
Linda M8 years ago


connor h.
connor h8 years ago

for other great sites like this one to click for good causes - Feed People! - Feed Rice! - Feed People! - Feed Children! - Feed! - Feed People! - Feed a Homeless person! - Help Feed!

Barbara H.
.8 years ago

Don't just feel bad about it, feel bad enough to look into what our communities and country is doing and stand up and help change it!!!! It is time for us to stand up and tell our country to STOP IT, Enough, no more, it is time to really change things. Barbara H.

Barbara H.
.8 years ago

What is happening to our country. America was suppose to be the country that set high kind standards and human rights for it's countrymen!!! Now we hear of so much abuse in all areas of organizations that are suppose to look out for our best interests. For a country that likes to brag about family values and believing in God we behave in just the opposite way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We need to hear about these things, open our eyes, feel the shame of what we are doing wrong!! Take responsibility for it, stand up like good, honest,caring Americans that we once were and CHANGE!!! Please let us go back to letting our rules, laws etc. be based from love and caring for our fellow man. If you are uninformed, not standing up, not speaking out to our law makers and community you are just as bad as if you are taking part in it. Please America find your hearts and courage and help get our country back to some kind of sane order. How else can we live with ourselves? Look at all the other countries that have passed us up in many ways, health, education, help for the handicapped etc. Barbara H.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W8 years ago

very sad

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p8 years ago

i think special needs children should be in their own classes,with teachers who know how to take care of them, without hurting or restraining them.we had 2 specialneeds kids in our class, they were mostly ignored or when got a little boisterous removed from class.

Jennifer Hughes
Jennifer Hughes8 years ago

My petition to drop FELONY charges against an ELEVEN-year-old autistic boy who fought back against restraints:

Jaime J.
Jaime J8 years ago

Mark O...grow up! I am a school teacher and I take offense to your comment. What purpose do you have in saying that? What job do you do to try to better the lives of Americans?

Also, I am appalled at the harsh use of restraints for children; that's awful!

I am a sixth grade teacher, and I will say that having special education students in the classroom is not an easy task. I find it ironic that the government, who has little experience in the classroom can make calls about "training teachers on methods of controlling special-education student behavior without removing kids from their peers". My job is not just to teach special education students. I have 30 students of varying levels within my classroom. If I am going to have special-education students in my classroom (which I welcome with open arms), there had better be a paraprofessional and a special education teacher working to modify the curriculum and assist the students one on one within my classroom. It would be ludicrous to require one teacher to do all of that on his/her own.

My job is not to just control the behavior of the students in my classroom...I would be a baby sitter if that were the case. My job is to instill within the developing minds of my students an education to place my students so that they can be competitive among the developing countries of the world. That's our calling!

Past Member
Past Member 8 years ago

I agree with Mark O.