Restraint and Seclusion Practices in Schools
Earlier in 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) issued reports exposing restraint and seclusion practices in schools. These reports indicated that thousands of students are secluded or restrained in public and private schools each year, including hundreds of cases where the techniques are allegedly abusive or cause death.
The reports also noted that children with disabilities are at a special risk of being subject to restraint and seclusion, because their disabilities may manifest in what appears to be misbehavior. Children with autism are particularly susceptible to being misunderstood in this way, because they often do not display physical signs of their disabilities.
Since the release of the studies, advocacy groups, parents, educators and state legislators have created or are currently in the process of creating new policies and laws to eliminate the abuse of restraints and seclusion rooms in schools. In the meantime, parents can take the following steps as outlined by The Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Intervention and Seclusion (APRAIS) to protect their children.
1. Sign a No Consent Form. Make it clear to your child’s teachers or other program staff that you expect an environment free of aversives, non-emergency restraint, and seclusion. To put this message on record, sign and date a No Consent Letter and have it placed prominently in your child’s IEP or treatment plan. If you have seen warning signs which you believe may result from the way your child is treated at school or in any situation where you are not present, it is important to ask questions immediately.
2. Monitor Your Child’s Program. Review your child’s records (especially the contents of the education and/or treatment plan, and any “incident reports” in your child’s files), and make visits during which you carefully observe all aspects of your child’s day.
3. Keep careful records. Document and date anything your child says or does that concerns you; take and date photographs of any suspicious injuries.
4. Share your concerns with your child’s physician, psychologist, or other health care provider.
5. Report Abusive Practices to State and Local Agencies (including the police, just as you would to help stop abuse for a child without disabilities).
Your State Education Agency (SEA) will have a help line, hot line, or other assistance program to which you should report at once. Disputes involving your child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), state special education regulations, or state school disciplinary laws and regulations can be addressed through the State Education Agency’s impartial due process hearings.
You have the right to request a hearing concerning your child’s placement or program at any time, and your request must be granted promptly. All 50 states, The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the federal territories have a protection and advocacy system (P&As). P&As are mandated under various federal statutes to provide protection and advocacy on behalf of individuals with disabilities.
To find your state P&A contact information to obtain assistance, please visit the National Disability Rights Network or call (202) 408-9514.