In a July 31 letter, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described his reaction to testimony before Congress on the use of restraints and seclusion in public schools.
He advised school officials to reform their seclusion and restraint procedures “to ensure that every student in every school is safe and protected” before the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.
“On May 19, the Education and Labor Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing to examine the abusive and potentially deadly misapplication of seclusion and restraint techniques in schools. . . . [and] testimony from the Government Accountability Office on “Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers.” The testimony is available on the Internet at the following Web address: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09719t.pdf. (Accessible text format)”
“I was deeply troubled by the testimony . . . As education leaders, our first responsibility should be to make sure that schools foster learning in a safe environment for all of our children and teachers. Therefore, I am encouraging each State to review its current policies and guidelines regarding the use of restraints and seclusion in schools to ensure every student is safe and protected, and if appropriate, develop or revise its policies and guidelines …”
Secretary Duncan recommended that states use stimulus money to implement “a school-wide system of PBIS … with information and help from the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports . . . ”
“I urge each of you to develop or review and, if appropriate, revise your State policies and guidelines to ensure that every student in every school under your jurisdiction is safe and protected from being unnecessarily or inappropriately restrained or secluded.
“I also urge you to publicize these policies and guidelines so that administrators, teachers, and parents understand and consent to the limited circumstances under which these techniques may be used; ensure that parents are notified when these interventions do occur; and provide the resources needed to successfully implement the policies and hold school districts accountable for adhering to the guidelines.
“I encourage you to have your revised policies and guidance in place prior to the start of the 2009-2010 school year to help ensure that no child is subjected to the abusive or potentially deadly use of seclusion or restraint in a school.
“I have asked Fran Walter of our Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with staff from our regional Comprehensive Centers to contact your office by August 15, to discuss the status of your State’s efforts with regard to limiting the use of seclusion and restraint to protect our students.” Full text of letter.
We are relieved that Secretary Duncan is taking a stand on this issue. But the devil is in the details.
The GAO stressed that there are no federal standards for restraints and seclusion in public schools. State laws and regulations vary. Nearly half of the states have no regulations about seclusion and restraints in schools. If federal standards are enacted, it should be easier to require states to enact similar standards.
* Nineteen states have NO laws or regulations about the use of seclusion or restraints in schools.
[Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming]
* Seven states place some restrictions on restraints, but do not regulate seclusion. [Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia]
* Nineteen states require parents to be notified after restraints have been used.
* Four states collect and report information from school districts about their use of restraints and seclusion. [Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Rhode Island]
* Two states require annual reporting on the use of restraints.[California and Connecticut]
We need to educate the public about the use of restraints and seclusion in public schools, and the fact that children with disabilities are dying as a result. We also need to require our State Departments of Education to enact strong policies and procedures on restraints and seclusion until strong regulations can be implemented.