Report: States making progress on restraint and seclusion laws

Use of restraints and seclusion in schools
Report on use of restraints and seclusion in schools

Although legislation limiting restraint and seclusion practices has stalled at the federal level, states are moving forward with their own measures, according to a new report from the Autism National Committee released March 22.

“It’s been more than five years since the first national restraint/seclusion bill was introduced,” the report states. “While progress has been made, children are still not protected from non-emergency restraint and seclusion in all states, or even a majority. In many states, dangerous mechanical and chemical restraints, even those that impede breathing can still be used….When children get on the school bus, their parents deserve to know they will come home safe, regardless of where they choose to live.“

The report, titled How Safe is the Schoolhouse, consists of a comprehensive survey of state laws on when and how school officials can use restraint and seclusion techniques on children.

Students with disabilities represent more than 80 percent of students restrained and nearly 70 percent of students secluded in schools nationwide.

Nationwide, 22 states have laws establishing “meaningful protections against restraint and seclusion” for all children, while 34 states have protections specifically for students with disabilities.

Safeguards vary widely within the states, only 20 states specify that such practices are allowed only where there is a risk of physical danger. While many states have incorporated parental notification requirements when these practices are used, some laws do not require that the notification be made in a timely manner.

Data reporting standards are inconsistent across state lines, which makes it difficult to create a national picture of how often these practices are used.

Representatives George Miller (D-Calif.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash) introduced a bill in 2009 that would create the first national standards for restraint and seclusion practices. Similar bills have been introduced in the House and Senate each year since.