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Feds: Students With Disabilities Most Often Restrained


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First-ever national data released Tuesday indicates that students with disabilities are significantly more likely than others to be restrained at school.

The new statistics come from a survey of 72,000 schools, representing 85 percent of the nation’s students, that was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.

In all, 38,792 of the students represented in the survey were physically restrained by an adult at school during the 2009-2010 academic year. The vast majority of those restrained — 69 percent — had disabilities, even though students with special needs made up just 12 percent of the survey sample.

This is the first time that information on restraint and seclusion was solicited as part of the Education Department’s regular civil rights data collection. The government agency began releasing findings this week broken down by location as well as some results from the national sample. However, a full picture from across the country is not expected for another month, officials said.

In addition to the disproportionate use of restraint on students with disabilities, the Education Department data indicated that boys are more likely than girls to be subject to restraint and seclusion. What’s more, students from some racial groups were more frequently subject to the disciplinary tactics.

Meanwhile, students with disabilities were more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as compared to their typically developing peers, the survey found.

The findings were released the same day disability advocates at the National Disability Rights Network issued a report blasting the Education Department for failing to do more to rein in the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The organization first brought concerns about the tactics to the forefront in 2009 with a report that found dozens of cases of injury and even death resulting from the practices.

Since that time, members of Congress have attempted to pass legislation to limit restraint and seclusion in schools, but to no avail. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion »)

“(The Department of Education) has not provided any meaningful leadership to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion — despite the fact that students are continuing to be confined, tied up, pinned down, battered and nearly killed on a regular basis,” said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, in the organization’s latest report.

The group is urging federal education officials to issue “strong national guidance” to schools about the use of restraint and seclusion much like they have done to address concerns about bullying.

Last year, Alexa Posny, the Education Department’s top special education official indicated that such guidance would be forthcoming, but it has yet to be released.

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Comments (12 Responses)

  1. George Olarewaju says:

    Physical restraints are preventable in Developmental Disabilities. Most restraints (phyiscal/chemical) are the result of over-reaction to the acting out behavior that most of the time poses no safety risk to the person or others in the environment. Training and education in crisis prevention and management are critical to mitigate the overuse of restraints in this population.

  2. just me says:

    And I wonder how many of the 31% of students not identified with a disability actually did have an unrecognized disability? After all, many if not most schools act as if Child Find depends on parents to refer their child for evaluation for services for a 504 plan or IEP.

  3. Thomas Charles Wood says:

    I think that the point is, is that schools really do not want to educate the disabled, & use “punishment” & “restraint” to “send a message” to the parents of children with disabilities “GET YOUR KID OUT OF OUR SCHOOL(S)!!!!!”.

  4. Rose Moore says:

    “(The Department of Education) has NOT provided any meaningful leadership to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion — despite the fact that students are continuing to be confined, tied up, pinned down, battered and nearly killed on a regular basis,” said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, in the organization’s latest report.

    If there is no guidance from Dept of Education on this issue than these issues at the schools will have to go directly to court and force the Dept of Education to make a law or statement on this.

  5. Andrea says:

    I think releasing the statistics in this way is misleading. Physical restraint should, of course, be a last resort, and only used when there is no other way to make a situation safe for the student, other students, and staff. However, students with severe disabilities are more likely than their non-disabled peers to be in those situations where there is no other way to make everyone safe. For example, the school where I work serves students with Autism and related behavior disorders. Our entire staff is trained in crisis prevention and management, but it is still not uncommon for our students to be restrained. We don’t stop there – our talented staff write behavior plans, find better reinforcers, and work hard to discover what causes the behavior, and are usually successful. But that doesn’t mean we should allow anyone to be unsafe while we work on that – and so we use physical restraint techniques. And it is unreasonable to compare the percentage of those techniques used here with any “regular” ed school.

  6. Tashi M says:

    This is a duh!!! study … of course the majority of restraints would be with students with disabilities. It just makes sense since usually students who are not identified as SPED do not need to be restrained. If a student needs to be restrained it typically is followed closely by identification for SPED. —
    To say that a disapportionate amount of restraints occur in the SPED populations is akin to saying that a disapportionate amount of births occur among females.

    I believe STRONGLY in the need for accurate, consistant training in crisis management techniques but those who try to say that none of our students should ever be restrained have not been around many of the students I have worked with through out the years.
    There are many steps and alternatives that can and should be used and restraints should be a last resort method HOWEVER…. when a student puts themselves or others in danger using safe physical mangagement techniques is a must.
    I would support legislation that demands persons who use safe physical management techniques be retrained every 3-5 years in crisis management as well as safe physical techniques. I would even support legislation providing for some broad definition about what type of techniques are okay (for example never face down) but other than that… sorry, anybody who believes that it should be done away with needs to come spend a month in my classroom…. where I have students who will have banged their head against the floor or even through a window to draw blood, have split others faces with a heatbutt, have tried to run into traffic etc.
    And although no I generally do not use a restraint with my students unless and untill they are in danger of hurting themselves severely (even my “I like to see blood” student I use mats and block with my body so he can’t hurt himself when all our antecedent and environmental preventions have not worked) there are times when the danger becomes too great. And yes he is a student with disabilities …. if he wasn’t disabled I doubt he would be trying to hurt himself in this manner.

  7. Julie says:

    And where would you like them to go Thomas? Not all families have the luxury of a stay at home parent that is qualified to educate their special needs child. How about holding the people who WE pay to educate our children accountable for their actions? Unfortunately, it is necessary to legislate common sense some times and this is one of those times. Sitting on a child, young adult or even an adult is unacceptable and has resulted in death and serious injury – there needs to be a law that says “if you harm a child in the name of restraint you will be held legally responsible and suffer criminal charges”. Please support the Keeping All Students Safe Act. Tell your elected officials that they too need to support this measure as well.

  8. ThBara says:

    Another thing that was released is the data related to corporal punishment in schools. Why hasn’t anyone in the disability community mentioned that corporal punishment (where it is legal in 31 states) is disproportionately being used on students with disabilities and minorities. And further why haven’t states completely abolished this practice which causes more harm than good.

  9. ThBara says:

    I meant to say corporal punishment in schools is still legal in 19 states. correction from my previous post

  10. Cammy says:

    The problem is teachers have a “job” to do and will not slow down or consider the special needs of the child. I have threatened legal action against my daughters school and it TOOK THAT to stop them.
    Our children are jewels, not “problems”!
    Mom of Alicia, CAMMY

  11. Glen S says:

    First, why do we always look to the government for “leadership” in these areas. Second, if the parents are to be a child’s greatest and best advocate; there is a problem. Third, do we want more government intrusion or less? Finally, for one of the posters to routinely post with so much hatred and anger is shameful and says more about him than it does about the school systems.

  12. annie says:

    I definitely think further education is in order from the dept of ed. as well. My son has really significant behavioral issues as part of his DD, head banging until he injures himself for example even when he’s wearing a special helmet, but he has a detailed well written behavior plan. The trouble with a behavior plan is that it doesn’t solve the issue overnight, it can take months, so in the interim sometimes restraining him is necessary, and I would like for it to be done safely and responsibly! Furthermore there is confusion in my school district about the definition of restraining, so much so that I had to get a letter of medical necessity written or they weren’t going to let my son use his wheelchair because it had a lap belt on it, or his gait trainer, because it buckles on too. They aren’t punishments… they’re mobility devices… so clearly schools don’t even understand the issue at hand. No one is worried about a child’s mobility device, they’re worried about their beautiful children being crushed underneath someone or propped up in a corner all day.

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