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In First, Feds Issue Advice On Restraint And Seclusion


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The U.S. Department of Education weighed in on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools Tuesday with a 45-page resource document, but stopped short of issuing formal guidance to educators.

The move marks the most detailed instruction to date from federal education officials about the practices which have become highly controversial in recent years.

The issue came to the forefront after a 2009 advocacy group report uncovered widespread abuse and even deadly examples of restraint and seclusion in schools — most involving students with disabilities — problems which were later confirmed in a government report as well.

Since that time, disability advocates have pressed Congress to enact federal standards on the use of restraint and seclusion, but such efforts have sputtered.

The Education Department document released Tuesday outlines 15 principles to guide educators and other stakeholders in the creation of policies surrounding the use of restraint and seclusion. It emphasizes the importance of preventive measures and indicates that restraint and seclusion should never be used as punishment. The federal document also highlights the need for staff training and communication with parents about any use of the practices.

“Ultimately, the standard for educators should be the same standard that parents use for their own children,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “There is a difference between a brief time out in the corner of a classroom to help a child calm down and locking a child in an isolated room for hours. This really comes down to common sense.”

Federal officials said they disseminated the new document to stakeholder groups and posted it on their website, but would not actively distribute it to all of the nation’s school districts since it’s not official guidance. Rather, a Department of Education spokesman called the document “thoughtful encouragement.”

While pleased to see the Obama administration addressing the issue of restraint and seclusion, some disability advocates said they were disappointed that officials didn’t go farther. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion »)

“I think overall it’s positive, but it could have been stronger,” said Barb Trader, executive director of TASH, who has led efforts by several disability advocacy groups to urge federal regulation of the practices.

Specifically, Trader said she appreciated the department’s focus on prevention, but wished the document more clearly articulated that restraint and seclusion should only be used in emergencies and said she had hoped to see a bigger premium put on working toward eliminating the practices.

“It’s disappointing to us that it didn’t come through as clear guidance. I think it would be taken much more seriously by districts,” she said.

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. Margaret Kinsell says:

    “thoughtful encouragement” you have got to be kidding me

  2. hdemic says:

    Is anything taken seriously by districts?

  3. Cathy says:

    Oh I am so sad on this! I do know the Educaters will just throw it away. There will be no acknowledgement of this and the teachers will openly say: we don’t know anything about this so we will just keep doing what we are doing. How enormously sad I feel about this.

  4. Alex says:

    I thought we were long past this. 15 years ago I was recruited to teach a class on restraints for the work and life supports agency I served. Yet in 20 years of teaching karate to children with challenges and several years of working with supposedly volatile clients, I never encountered the need to restrain anyone. Ultimately the class evolved into one on understanding the antecedents that precede aggressive behavior. Together, the group would learn to understand that aggressive behavior never occurs in a vacuum and that often what caretakers did contributed to situations and that with great mindfulness they could learn to defuse almost every situation before restraints were needed. Previously, people left the class on restraints wondering if the restraints would work and feeling a need to test them. With the right training they began to look for ways to resolve problems before they became problems.

  5. Deefreddy says:

    It is too bad it didn’t go further than “encouragement.” There are those educators who have knowledge of positive behavior supports and do look for ways to not set students off to the point that they need restraints. These teachers do the right thing without a law. On the other hand, there are educators who don’t, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they are the same educators who will say “stay out of my classroom, out of my business, I know what I’m doing” and a stronger law is needed to protect students from the damage they can do. Does Arne Duncan really think that a teacher who believes that there is a place for restraints and seclusion in today’s classroom would ever follow “thoughtful encouragement”?

  6. joe gerardi says:

    clearly the feds have no guts !!!!
    how many more deaths do they need !!!!

  7. MDteachSOURCE says:


    Have some faith! There are caring, attentive, professionally-engaged teachers out there who are reading this and passing it along. In fact, I found this on Twitter.

    If you really feel this way, then proactively push it out to your director of special ed, the superintendent, the parent advocates, other parents, etc.

    To get administrators’ attention, highlight that these guidelines will mitigate their liability in such matters.

    Good luck!
    Twitter: @MDteachNET

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