NDRN Applauds New Restraint and Seclusion Guidance for Schools

School entrance with the word SCHOOL.

by Andy Jones
January 20, 2017

The US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released new guidance December 28, outlining the limits that schools must observe when subjecting students with disabilities to restraint and seclusion techniques.

“This guidance makes clear that school districts need to take steps to address underlying causes of behaviors that give rise to conduct for which a school district believes it needs to restrain or seclude a student,” Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said in a statement. “In the absence of a federal statute, and within the constraints of current law, we believe this guidance will go a long way toward reducing the unnecessary restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities.”

Although special education students make up just 12 percent of all students enrolled in public schools, 67 percent of all uses of restraint and seclusion are used against this population, according to the DOE's data for the 2013-14 school year, the most recent available.

No federal law currently directly governs the use of these practices. In 2012, the DOE released a 45-page resource document [PDF], which called for a ban on mechanical restraints and the use of restraint and seclusion techniques as a disciplinary mechanism, thus limiting their use to when students pose a threat of imminent harm to self or others.

In a new 24-page Dear Colleague Letter [PDF], the DOE warns that the use of such techniques may run contrary to schools' obligations to students who have special education, or Section 504, plans, or trigger new obligations under these laws to modify students' education plans.

“A school district discriminates on the basis of disability in its use of restraint or seclusion by (1) unnecessarily treating students with disabilities differently from students without disabilities; (2) implementing policies, practices, procedures, or criteria that have an effect of discriminating against students on the basis of disability or defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the school district’s program or activity with respect to students with disabilities; or (3) denying the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE),” the letter states.

A separate letter [PDF] focuses particularly on the obligations of charter schools to their students.

The NDRN’s 2009 report, “School is Not Supposed to Hurt," on restraints and seclusion can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington is the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.