NDRN calls on Education Department to reduce restraint and seclusion

To punish disruptive elementary school students with disabilities, Farm Hill School, in Middletown, Connecticut, contains a series of small, cement-walled, “time out rooms.”

Girl in chair in school
Restraint and seclusion in school

Students are sometime secluded in these rooms, known by parents as “scream rooms,” for hours at a time. Other students in the school can hear them screaming. School staff have reported to having to clean blood and urine from these rooms.

The use of scream rooms is one of many restraint and seclusion methods used against students with disabilities in America’s schools, according to a new report released Tuesday by the National Disability Rights Network. The report, which also documents cases of a Kentucky boy stuffed in a duffel bag and an Indiana boy attempting suicide after being secluded in a separate room for four hours, is the third such report released by the NDRN, along with reports in 2009 and 2010.

Federal legislation to set minimum standards for when schools can use restraint and seclusion methods has been introduced multiple times, with one bill passing in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.

But as NDRN sees it, the Department of Education, despite Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s support for the bill and guidance early in his tenure with the Obama Administration, is falling far short in using its influence to reduce restraint and seclusion.

“The Department of Education has not provided any meaningful leadership to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion − despite the fact that students are continuing to be confined, tied up, pinned down, battered and nearly killed on a regular basis,” NDRN executive director Curt Decker said in the report.

The NDRN call on the Department of Education to prohibit restraint and seclusion methods except “when necessary to protect a child or others from imminent physical danger.”

It also called for the the Department to provide clear guidelines warning schools that if restraint and seclusion methods are being used disproportionately on students with disabilities, then they are in conflict with federal anti-discrimination laws, regardless of if the methods approved by the students’ Individualized Education Plans.

For the NDRN, the Department of Education’s leadership stands in stark contrast to the administration’s efforts on bullying and harassment issues, which similarly disproportionately affect students with disabilities.

“School staff cannot be a role model to stop bullying if staff is simultaneously using violence in the forms of restraint and seclusion in non-emergency situations… Many of the strategies for stopping bullying are the same strategies for stopping restraint and seclusion,” the report stated. “We urge (the Department of Education) to start viewing these acts as being on the same continuum of school safety and take appropriate actions to stop them.”

The report’s release coincides with Tuesday’s release of the first-ever national data on the use of restraint and seclusion methods.

The data, released by the Department of Education as part of its regular civil rights data collection, found that 38,792 students represented in the survey were restrained or secluded during the 2009-10 school year, according to an article in Disability Scoop. The data represented  85 percent of students nationwide. Of the students restrained and secluded, 69 percent of them had disabilities, despite only representing 12 percent of the survey sample.