Bill Attempts to Ban Seclusion and Restraint
What would you do if your child came home covered in bruises and cuts, maybe even a tooth knocked out? Oh, that’s a normal day for my child, you think, roughhousing on the playground, kids will be kids, that sort of thing. But what if you found out that those injuries were inflicted by a teacher?
How about if you found out that your child missed history, math, and English class because she was locked in a room alone for three hours, with no bathroom breaks, no surveillance, and no supervision?
In 2010, over 40,000 students experienced this sort of treatment and almost seventy percent of those students have disabilities. Referred to as “seclusion and restraint,” it is perfectly legal in most states. Children who are victims of seclusion and restraint suffer from physical injuries, trauma, and some are even killed or commit suicide. Seclusion is defined by the U.S. Department of Education as the “involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.” The rooms are often old storage rooms, and the windows are covered, or the room is in the basement of the school where no one can hear the child who is locked up. Seclusion is different from a timeout because a child in timeout is supervised by an adult and is not locked into the space. Restraint comes in three forms: physical, mechanical, and chemical. According to the U.S. Department of Education, physical restraint is when a student is personally immobilized, such as when a teacher physically holds a child to the ground or against the wall. Mechanical restraint is when a device is used to restrict a child’s movement, such as when a teacher ties a child to a chair. Finally, chemical restraint is when medication not prescribed by a physician is given to the student to restrict the student’s ability to think and function.
On May 8, 2013, Congressman George Miller of California reintroduced a bill to prohibit the use of seclusion and all mechanical and chemical restraints. It would also prohibit the use of physical restraints unless in an emergency situation. Called the Keeping All Students Safe Act (H.R. 1893), this bill is a huge step in improving children’s rights and safety in schools.
The Keeping All Students Safe Act is based on the fact that seclusion and restraint have no empirical evidence of improving behavior in children. Instead, oftentimes these techniques arouse the child and cause the behavior to escalate. Think about it. If a child does something wrong, perhaps she strikes out at a teacher, physically pinning the child to the ground or against the wall only reinforces the idea that physical violence is the only way to solve problems. If an adult reacts physically to the disruptive behavior of a child, it is only expected for the child to try to fight back. With restraint, it is almost impossible to avoid a struggle and the risk of someone getting hurt. Furthermore, these techniques are reactive rather than preventative. They do not attempt to get to the root of the problem and find out why the child is acting out so that the behavior can be prevented in the future. This results in the disruptive and possibly dangerous behavior continuing.
Instead of seclusion and restraint, it is generally agreed upon that Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) are more effective in improving a student’s behavior. According to Dr. Daniel Crimmins, Director of the Center for Leadership in Disability, and Professor of Public Health at Georgia State University, in his testimony at the Senate hearing, Beyond Seclusion and Restraint: Creating Positive Learning Environments for All Students, to stop bad behavior the teacher must first understand why the behavior is occurring in the first place. Once the trigger for the behavior is discovered, the teacher can then try to prevent the bad behavior. For example, perhaps a student acts out by knocking over a chair because she is unable to sit still for long periods of time. If the teacher takes a moment to find out that the student is simply unable to sit still, he can give the student a pass to quietly leave the room for a few minutes, or perhaps stand up in the back of the classroom. By accommodating the different needs of the students, violent behavior can be prevented from happening in the first place. Finally, with this better understanding of the child, the teacher can teach the child more appropriate ways to cope with the difficult situation. For example, the teacher can teach the child techniques to use that are more appropriate than flipping over a chair when the child gets frustrated or angry.
Some states have already successfully banned the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Georgia, for example, banned all schools in the state from using seclusion, and banned all restraint only with the exception of emergency situations. Georgia has replaced these techniques with Positive Behavioral Systems (PBS) and the Georgia Department of Education has trained over 350 schools to implement PBS. It has been in effect and considered successful for the past three years.
Restraint and Seclusion: Hear Our Stories is a film that documents the testimonies of four individuals who were restrained and secluded when they were in school, as well as the testimonies of two parents whose children were restrained and secluded. Hearing twelve year old Jino Medina speak about how he was put in a seclusion room for hours at a time and tackled to the ground by his teachers, causing him to suffer a brain injury, makes this issue even more urgent. Then there’s the story of Helena Stephenson who attempted suicide after she was restrained and forced to spend thirty-five consecutive days in the seclusion room in the basement of her school.
The Keeping All Students Safe Act is beneficial for all children, but it is of utmost importance for children with disabilities. In most states, teachers are allowed to physically assault children because of their disabilities. The mentality in public and private schools is that children with behavioral disabilities are dangerous and not teachable; that they do not matter and can be shut up in a room for an entire day instead of learning in a classroom. If this is the expectation for students with disabilities, it is no wonder that they act out in school. All students deserve to be guided and taught, and given a chance to succeed—not pinned to the ground and shut out of sight and out of mind. Since there are other techniques proven to work, there is no excuse for restraint and seclusion. Restraint and seclusion hurts children, and it should no longer be excusable in today’s school systems.