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Ending the Use of Restraint and Seclusion

Sep 27, 2017, 10:52 AM

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit against a sheriff’s department in Kentucky after an eight-year-old boy and nine-year-old girl with ADHD and additional disabilities were handcuffed by the deputy sheriff for conduct related to their disabilities. The deputy sheriff used the handcuffs as a restraint on the students by positioning the handcuffs on the student’s biceps locking their arms behind their back, which the ACLU argues is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

At the 2015 annual convention, National PTA recently approved a resolution against the use of restraint and seclusion on students that:

  • Limits the use of restraint and seclusion on students only to be used as a last resort in emergency[i] situations
  • Seeks to educate the school community and parents about the risks of excessive and/or inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion by untrained school personnel.

National PTA also promotes the use of positive or non-aversive interventions for school discipline.

There is overwhelming evidence that the use of restraint and seclusion on children is dangerous, life-threatening and not an effective technique for discipline. This also continues to be used across many states and school districts.

For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Education, students with disabilities represent 12% of public school students, but are 75% of all students subject to physical restraint and 58% of students subject to seclusion. The 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection found the use of restraint and seclusion to be significant with over 110,000 student cases documented, absent of data entries from multiple states and districts that do not report on restraint and seclusion.

In 2009, the United States Congress introduced legislation to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools across the nation, but no federal legislation has become statute. National PTA has supported the Keeping All Students Safe Act in the last few Congresses and will continue to support legislation that reduces the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The lack of federal action has led many states to create their own restraint and seclusion statutes and guidelines that vary widely. The Autism National Committee captured the legal landscape of restraint and seclusion laws nationwide in a recent report that found that only 25 states have laws providing meaningful protections against restraint and seclusion for all children and 35 states provide protections for children with disabilities.

Kentucky was one of the states that fell under both categories of meaningful protections, but there are many caveats and exceptions that limit children’s protections under state laws—such as room descriptions, types of restraints and seclusion, and what constitutes emergency and life-threatening situations compared to everyday actions. Many states do not even require parental notification when restraints or seclusion has been used on a child, limiting the parent’s ability to take action and correct the problem so that their child can learn in a safe environment.

National PTA will continue to support evidence-based alternatives to seclusion and restraint— such as positive behavioral interventions—that work to improve a child’s actions in school. We encourage parents and families to be aware of their school’s discipline policies and the restraint and seclusion laws of their state in order to help create a safe a supportive school environment for all children.

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[i] Emergency is defined as an unanticipated and already occurring event that is placing the individual or others in imminent danger of physical harm.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.