2009 Reports: Seclusions and Restraints

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2009 Reports released on Seclusions and Restraints

May 2009 – GAO Report: Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers

What GAO Found

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) found no federal laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in public and private schools and widely divergent laws at the state level. Although GAO could not determine whether allegations were widespread, GAO did find hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on school children during the past two decades. Examples of these cases include a 7 year old purportedly dying after being held face down for hours by school staff, 5 year olds allegedly being tied to chairs with bungee cords and duct tape by their teacher and suffering broken arms and bloody noses, and a 13 year old reportedly hanging himself in a seclusion room after prolonged confinement. Although GAO continues to receive new allegations from parents and advocacy groups, GAO could not find a single Web site, federal agency, or other entity that collects information on the use of these methods or the extent of their alleged abuse.

Summary at http://gao.gov/products/GAO-09-719T

Highlights at http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d09719thigh.pdf

Complete Report at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09719t.pdf

April 2009 – Out of Darkness…Into the Light: Report Released on Seclusion and Restraint of Wisconsin Children


The report exposes the tragedy of secluding and restraining Wisconsin children in schools and treatment settings throughout the state. It describes the ways in which Wisconsin children have been both emotionally and physically injured by such practices, including one child who died in restraints. It further describes actions taken by many other states to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint of children, and calls for legislative and administrative agency action to protect Wisconsin children from these dangerous practices.

Executive Summary at http://www.disabilityrightswi.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/out-of-darkness-executive-summary.pdf

Full Report at http://www.disabilityrightswi.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/out-of-darkness-full-report.pdf

January 2009 –School is Not Supposed to Hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools from the National Disability Rights Network.


This report of their study on restraint and seclusion of school children, many with disabilities, chronicles a number of instances where children were injured or even killed by these techniques. (January 2009)

Full Report at http://www.napas.org/sr/SR-Report.pdf

  1. My daughter was secluded in a room with no windows with a chair propped against the door. To get out, she removed her hearing aids and swallowed the battery. I was called to take her to an emergency room, but not told she had been secluded at the time. When more and more things happened and we finally found her catatonic on a floor of a resource room, we sought legal help. The school district spent $300,000+ dollars to fight us with 2 law firms when we filed suit to find out what had happened to our daughter.

  2. My aides are not allowed to restrain students. The aides and I have taken 8 hours of training each school year in how to protect a student from harming others or himself without us causing harm to the student we are restaining. No “face down on the floor” stuff. But as the credentialed person, I have to do all the restraint on those rare occasions when other techniques don’t calm a situation. This protects the students from aides who may harm them but since I am getting older and less agile, my years of being a highly qualified teacher in SPED are coming to an end. I am 51 years old and do not qualify for a pension yet. I understand what others are saying but us highly qualified teachers are being forced out so the less qualified are coming in. What is the answer? I sure don’t know.

  3. I have been caught in a double standard for years. My AS son can be suspended for glaring and taking one menacing step towards a teacher, yet I am occasionally left with bruises and cuts at the hands of my students. I forgive the students if it is part of their disability to have tantrums. In a different school district, my son can’t be forgiven for an angry glare. Also, I have developed arthritis and when the school found out, I was put on medical leave because I might have difficulty physically restraining students. I guess a less qualified person who can hold students down will have to replace me next year. I never put students down on the floor anyway. I have the aides take the rest of the students out and I let the angry one vent by tossing stuff around. When calm, we talk about what is wrong.

  4. Our children have been in both public and private schools and have conditions that present behavior challenges. The bar for Manifestation Determination is too high, based upon suspensions imposed by the school, and does not allow a parent to bring an action based upon maltreatment of a child. But, in Virginia, the mandatory training for licensure pertaining to abuse does not require training in the handling of disabled children. Also, in the VDOE response to public comments on the SpEd regulations last summer, they said that, short of a felony conviction, they would not revoke the license of a teacher practicing in the private sector. All these factors suggest that the door to maltreatment is wide open. Unless there is direction at the federal level, I don’t expect the states to impose accountablity on the people they license to teach.

  5. Pam

    I agree that parents need to stay in touch with their Congress members and staff to offer documentation, photos and suggestions.

    Before any new legislation is considered, the State and Federal laws need to be enforced by a law enforcement agency.

    Otherwise the fox will report compliance of the new laws the same way he does on current laws while guarding the hen house.

    As long as schools are allowed to falsify school records, they way the treat kids will remain irrelevant.

    We need a truth in learniing policy that is enforced.

  6. These Congressional hearings appear to be the first step to remedy these identified problems. Congress asked the GAO to collect data and is holding hearings on abuse and restraints. According to GAO, no uniform reporting system exists so it is difficult to determine the extent or severity of the problem. No federal laws limit or regulate use of seclusion and restraints in schools. State laws are inconsistent or nonexistent.

    One issue is whether these problems should be addressed at the federal or state level. After receiving the GAO report, the House Education Committee is considering changes to federal laws to prevent this abuse. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is taking a different approach, asking states to enact policies and procedures on seclusion and restraints before the 2009-2010 school year begins.

    As the legislative process continues, it is essential for us to stay in touch with our members of Congress. We will post updates on Wrightslaw. ~ Pam Wright

  7. I am a very lucky parent! My AS daughter who is now 23 could have been one of those children who died at the hands of school staff. During her elementry years I would often be called to school to find 4-5 adults holding her face down on the floor. I still feel ill thinking about those years and reading these stories brings me to my knees! I pray changes are made quickly, before another child is lost or damaged by people paid with our own tax dollars.

  8. Our world is filled with double standards. ie. We don’t dare use a product that does not have a tamper proof seal on it but will all but hug the guy driving the Gremlin delivering a Pizza to our door.

    In business it is considered fraud if a worker spends money for services that are allocated for a specific role. In public education, it is acceptable to provide a child in special education with a teacher who is not highly qualified, and to provide little or no basic educational services.

    In law, attorneys have an ethical code. In special ed law, attorneys do not seem to be regulated by anyone. They can misquote the law and excuse it with an apology letter.

    In life we learn not to touch the hot stove by experiencing it. In public education, we collectively touch the stove day after day, and year after year.

  9. Why does it seem there is more outrage/attention re: enhnaced interrogation techniques on terrorist detainees, than the deaths and torture of innocent school children?

  10. Our public school system will arrest a first grader who brings a butter knife to school, in an effort to protect other children from potential harm by the butter-spreader.

    Untrained staff who harm and kill children seemed to be welcomed into the schools with open arms. In the event a child is injured, the school has more unwritten safeguards than the ones that the IDEA and ADA regulations attempt to offer our kids.

    My child’s experience is in this report. Photos were presented to a District Admin promises to investigate the most recent incident of bruises and cuts that the untrained aid left on my child. Meeting minutes document that the attorney who represents the school will contact law enforcement to address our concerns but they elected not to follow through with their promises. The Aide was imediately hired full time.

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