Special EDition: Keeping School Safe for Students with Disabilities: Restraint and Seclusion are Not the Solution
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April 2015

WORKSHOP SCHEDULE: Check our website to register for upcoming trainings. DREDF's next in-house training here in the ERC's Bernard Osher Foundation Education Center (First Floor) is Monday, May 11, 2015, from 6–8:30 PM.

Dear Friends and Family Caregivers

We send our children to school expecting that they will be safe and supported so they can learn. But for some children with disabilities, especially those in settings outside the general education classroom, this is not always the case. Across the country, Parent Training and Information Centers (PTI's) like DREDF hear of cases involving extreme practices.

These practices include holding children face down on the floor or keeping them alone in a room that they cannot leave for long periods. They are repeatedly used as consequences for behaviors that are annoying, inconvenient, or disruptive, but not dangerous. And they are also used in situations where lower–level intervention earlier would have worked preventively.

There is no evidence that these practices are effective in reducing the occurrence of problem behaviors, and they can be counterproductive and dangerous.

Children are traumatized by being restrained or isolated, or through witnessing their peers experience such practices. Unsurprisingly, such trauma often creates a barrier to learning. Yet it is not uncommon to see these practices in a behavior plan as a logical "next step" in addressing behavior problems. They are also slipped into an enrollment contract (especially for segregated non-public therapeutic schools) where parents, who are often desperate, are required to agree or a student is not admitted.

Physical restraint or seclusion should not be used except in situations where the student's behavior poses an immediate danger of serious physical harm to the self or others, but these practices are sometimes used as punishment or discipline (e.g., placing a students in restraints for not completing work or leaving an assigned seat).

How Big Is the Problem?

On April 19, 2015, EdSource published an investigative report that explores the

California Department of Education's (CDE) lack of oversight of restraint and seclusion in special education. The report concludes that because of reduced state oversight by the CDE and regional special education agencies, "a shadow discipline" system exists in many special education classrooms, where minimally trained classroom aides have significant leeway in using emergency interventions to manage disruptive students." 

The report features DREDF's August 2014 state compliance complaint against the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. DREDF filed the complaint on behalf of two second-grade students subjected to repeated restraint and seclusion at a special education school serving 45 students. The state's investigation revealed over 300 instances of restraint at this one school in 2013-2014 alone:  One student was restrained 57 times that year, according to the investigation report. In one of those incidents, four staff members held him face-down on the floor for 57 minutes, and eight days later, staff members restrained him for 63 minutes, 40 minutes of that face-down. Another student was restrained 44 times and a third student 32 times. The state found the district out of compliance with several state laws regarding the use of behavioral interventions. Specifically, CDE cited the district for failing to refer incidents to the IEP team to consider a behavior plan change; failing to use restraint for the briefest time possible; failing to use less restrictive measures to address behaviors; and failing to notify families that their child had been restrained or secluded.

And it is the children and their parents who pay the heavy price when a traumatized child comes home and acts out their distress -- and a parent does not know what happened to them at school.

Nationally, this is also a serious problem. The federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) collects data that shows that restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities served by IDEA represent 12 percent of the student population but 58 percent of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement and 75 percent of those physically restrained at school to immobilize them or reduce their ability to move freely.

There is a racial dimension, too -- Black students represent 19 percent of students with disabilities served by IDEA but 36 percent of the students who are restrained at school through the use of a mechanical device or equipment designed to restrict their freedom of movement.

What you can do to reduce your child's risk for restraint/seclusion:

  • Whenever possible, keep children in regular school settings. Incidents of restraint and seclusion are far fewer in classrooms and offices that are more public. Children are not segregated with others who have similar or more extreme behaviors.
  • Address behavior problems early. Remember: behavior problems are not just "acting out" — any behavior that impedes learning is a problem. Ask for a Functional Behavior Assessment if your child is struggling to meet behavioral expectations. For non-verbal children, make sure that communication about the day is provided, and that the services needed to develop communication are in place. The team must understand what causes the behavior so that it can be prevented and the child needs to learn effective replacement behaviors. Behavior always has a purpose—and that purpose may not be easily understood without real assessment.
  • If a child does need a segregated therapeutic setting, visit and ask any proposed placement about its statistics on the use of restraint and seclusion.  Ask staff to describe the last time they had to use restraint and to demonstrate what they do. Also ask what the plan is to return the child to a less restrictive setting as quickly as possible. And ask your district how they plan to monitor the private placement over time -- they have that obligation.
  • Put a requirement into your child's IEP or 504 plan that, in the event your child is restrained or secluded, you will be notified within 24 hours, and receive a copy of the incident report without delay. If you discover that your child has been restrained or secluded, call an immediate meeting with your child's team. Do not leave it to the school to modify the plan — your input is critical in preventing a recurrence.  
  • Ask how support staff are trained and monitored. This is especially true when schools rely on aides/paraprofessional staff to remove children from class who are acting out or noncompliant to locations where monitoring is poor.  Ask whether aides who are using these practices are supervised by higher level staff, and who that staff is.

For help understanding other ways to individualize your child's program to help prevent use of these dangerous practices, contact your Parent Training and Information Center.


Understanding the Special Education Process: IEP Basics & Beyond
FREE! An overview of the special education process, Section 504, and IDEA laws.
Date: Second Monday of the month (not offered August)

Next Offered:  May 11, 2015
Time: 6:00 – 8:30 PM (Pizza included!)
Where: DREDF, Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St., Berkeley, CA 94703
Classroom: The Bernard Osher Foundation Education Center, First Floor
Must Register: Contact DREDF at (510) 644-2555 ext 5227 or

Special Note: We frequently hold specialized trainings at the request of other community organizations. Check our website for these upcoming trainings in your area that are open to the public. Some of these are held in Spanish. If you want to request training for your organization, please contact DREDF at (510) 644-2555 ext 5227 or

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Advocacy Tip of the Month: Review your child's IEP, 504, and Behavior Plans to make sure you are not "authorizing" use of restraint or seclusion.


FAPE — Free Appropriate Public Education

IDEA — Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

IEP — Individualized Educational Program

LRE — Least Restrictive Environment

PTI — Parent Training and Information Centers

CHILD FIND — Child Find requires all public school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities. This obligation to identify all children who may need special education services exists even if the school is not providing special education services to the child.

Related Links:

Congressional Research Service Report: Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Public Schools: The Legal Issues, 2010

US Dept. of Education, Office of Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection

California Dept. of Education and California Diagnostic Centers–sponsored Positive Environments, Network of Trainers (PENT) website with information about Restraint and Seclusion and positive behavioral support

Violent and Legal: The Shocking Ways School Kids Are Being Pinned Down, Isolated Against Their Will

EdSource: Little Oversight of Restraint in Special Education

ABC News: Kids Hurt or Killed at School

Office of Civil Rights Discipline Snapshot

Find Your Parent Training and Information Center

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