Restraint and seclusion in schools

A recently released video of a school resource officer handcuffing an eight-year-old special education student in Kentucky has caused uproar and concern among parents nationwide.
Although the officer acted in compliance with the school district’s restraint policies, such an occurrence is not acceptable in Connecticut or here in Wilton.
According to the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate’s (OCA) Seclusion and Restraint in CT Schools: A Call to Action report, “federal laws and regulations limit the use of restraint and seclusion in federally funded health and mental health programs for children,” but “there are no federal laws that specifically regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.”
Furthermore, the OCA’s report says, “overwhelming research confirms that restraint and seclusion can physically and emotionally harm children — traumatizing and scaring them, and even worsening behaviors that practitioners are seeking to reduce.”

Connecticut law

During the most recent legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act No. 15-141 (An Act Concerning Seclusion and Restraint in Schools), which defines physical restraint and seclusion as follows:

  • Physical restraint: Any mechanical or personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the free movement of a person’s arms, legs or head.

  • Seclusion: The involuntary confinement of a student in a room, whether alone or with supervision, in a manner that prevents the student from leaving.

Under Public Act No. 15-141, which took effect July 1, it is against the law for a school employee to:

  • Use physical restraint on a student or place a student in seclusion, except as an emergency intervention to prevent immediate or imminent injury to the student or to others.

  • Use a life-threatening physical restraint on a student.

Public Act No. 15-141 also makes it illegal for a student to be placed in seclusion unless:

  • The student is monitored by a school employee during the period of his or her seclusion.

  • The area in which the student is secluded is equipped with a window or other fixture, allowing the student a clear line of sight beyond the area of seclusion.

Click here  to read Public Act No. 15-141.

Local incidents

Using data from organizations that provide “direct care, education or supervision to students with disabilities,” the Connecticut Board of Education’s (CSDE) Annual Report on the Use of Physical Restraint and Seclusion reports “all incidents of” emergency restraint, emergency seclusion, and seclusion via IEPs for students with disabilities.
The CSDE asked organizations to report incident level information on all restraints and seclusions that occurred within their buildings and programs or during transportation they provided.
The organizations were also instructed to include any incidents of their students that took place in out-of-state facilities, nonpublic transition programs, other nonpublic schools, or during extended-day programs offered by the organization.
According to the 2013-14 report, Wilton Public Schools had 16 incidents of restraint and seclusion, involving seven students, during the 2013-14 school year.
At 419, Darien Public Schools had the highest number of incidents that year. The number of involved students was not reported.
Other Fairfield County municipalities reported the following number of incidents that year:

  • Bridgeport: 109 incidents, 27 students.

  • Brookfield: 27 incidents, unknown number of students.

  • Danbury: No incidents.

  • Easton: No incidents.

  • Fairfield: 68 incidents, 18 students.

  • Greenwich: 119 incidents, 14 students.

  • Monroe: 38 incidents, unknown number of students.

  • New Canaan: 58 incidents, six students.

  • Newtown: 64 incidents, unknown number of students.

  • Redding: 34 incidents, unknown number of students.

  • Ridgefield: 17 incidents, unknown number of students.

  • Shelton: No incidents.

  • Stratford: 139 incidents, 16 students.

  • Trumbull: 140 incidents, 17 students.

  • Weston: No incidents.

  • Westport: 23 incidents, 10 students.

The report provided no information on Bethel, Norwalk and Regional 9 districts.
Click here to read the CSDE’s Annual Report on the Use of Physical Restraint and Seclusion.

Effective measures

According to the OCA, implementation of evidence-based strategies — such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, the Six Core Strategies, and related trauma and expert-informed tiered interventions — can dramatically decrease the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.
Programs across the country that have utilized such measures have not only seen “a remarkable decrease in the use of restraint and seclusion,” according to the OCA, but a decrease in problem behavior as well.
According to the OCA, state laws regarding restraint and seclusion should:

  • Ensure consistency with current research and best practices for children regarding the potential harms of restraint and seclusion.

  • Increase monitoring and evaluation of restraint and seclusion.

  • Offer more support, including training and capacity building for schools to meet the varied and specialized learning needs of children with and without disabilities.

Click here  to read the OCA’s Seclusion and Restraint in CT Schools: A Call to Action.