A scathing report released one year ago brought unprecedented attention to the use of restraint and seclusion tactics in schools, documenting rampant examples of abusive and even deadly practices primarily involving special education students.

Now Congress is set to consider legislation this year to institute the first-ever federal oversight regulating these tactics. Meanwhile, a handful of states have made changes in an effort to promote student safety. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion >>)

Yet, for students who enter classrooms everyday, the battle is far more personal. Relatively few protections are in place in most states and consideration of the pending federal legislation will take time. That means parents and students themselves must be on the watch, says Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, which issued the initial report last January and is currently preparing a follow up report.

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Don’t condone it

Most importantly, Decker says, don’t give schools a free pass.

“The IEP should not contain any sanction of seclusion and restraint,” he says. “It’s not proper programming when you have to accept a restraint or a seclusion methodology in order to keep your kid in an integrated classroom.”

Rather, it is the purpose of the IEP meeting to establish appropriate programming and positive behavior supports designed to avoid severe behavior problems, Decker says.

If a child’s IEP currently includes provisions for restraint or seclusion, now is the time to request that such tactics be stripped from the plan. Should the federal legislation pass as it’s currently proposed, such measures will not be allowed in IEP plans anyway.

Watch for the signs

In most cases, parents have no idea that their child is experiencing restraint or seclusion at school. So, even if your child’s IEP doesn’t mention the techniques, that doesn’t mean school staff aren’t employing them.

Keep a keen eye for signs of disciplinary measures gone wrong, especially if you’re dealing with a child who can’t tell you what’s going on at school. Pay attention if a child is nervous about school, refuses to go or is acting out in any way.

“A lot of parents realize that their child was restrained or secluded 85 times before they even found out about it,” Decker says. “If the parents walk into the classroom and the kid is tied to a chair, then yeah, that’s pretty obvious, but too many parents just don’t even know this is happening.”

Look for assistance

If you do suspect trouble, know your rights. The protection and advocacy system, or P&A, in almost every state offers a brochure or manual on restraint and seclusion rules, Decker says. Fellow parents, local parent training centers and other advocacy organizations are also good places to turn for assistance. (Find your state’s P&A >>)

Currently, 17 states have no laws or policies regarding restraint and seclusion in schools. And even in states where regulations exist, the level of restriction varies. (Find out where your state stands >>)

Use the IEP process

Present any concerns to your child’s teacher and other school staff. Then, request records pertaining to your child and demand that school staff document any use of restraint or seclusion, Decker says.

When you are noticing problems, it’s important to trigger the IEP process to examine what’s wrong with the child’s program as a whole that’s leading to behavior issues.

“The whole IEP process is built on the premise that if the child is not doing well – either not meeting the goals or acting out – then it’s a failure of the program,” Decker says. “Don’t accept some kind of physical restraint as the answer to the problem.”

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