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Can Alternatives to Restraint and Seclusion be Included in my Child’s IEP?

Restraint and seclusion are my two biggest fears involving special education. Of course, no parent wants to think about their child being restrained or secluded at school, but it unfortunately happens. Not all cases make the news, but you can research recent investigations and settlements involving schools that used restraint and seclusion on children with disabilities on the Department of Justice website

According to federal guidance, restraint and seclusion should only be used as a last resort when your child is in imminent danger of serious physical harm to themselves and others and only when less restrictive interventions have failed to provide an effective solution.

But, unfortunately, kids are still unnecessarily being restrained and secluded when they shouldn’t be. Restraint and seclusion can traumatize children and cause psychological harm, physical injuries, and even death. It can also lead to increased anxiety and behavioral problems and lead to our children not trusting the adults they interact with at school. 

The Department of Education defines restraint as restricting the student’s ability to freely move their torso, arms, legs, or head or using any device or equipment to restrict a student’s freedom of movement. It defines seclusion as involuntary confining a student alone in a room or area where they can’t physically leave.

Children with disabilities are restrained and secluded much more often than those without disabilities. According to the Department of Education, students with disabilities and special needs make up about 12% of the public school population. Still, they account for 71% of physical restraints and 66% of seclusion incidents. 

What is most alarming is the most recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicates that 70% of all school districts reported zero incidents of restraint and seclusion. In other words, schools aren't reporting when they use restraint and seclusion.

What Can we do as Parents?

You must understand your state’s laws regarding interventions, as well as your rights when it comes to your child’s IEP. If your child’s IEP is behavior-based, like my son’s IEP is, you want to ensure that your child’s IEP includes alternatives to restraint and seclusion. 

You know your child better than anyone else. You know what helps them deescalate when they’re angry and their triggers. It’s essential to work with your child’s IEP team to discuss what works at home to recommend ways for the school to use first before using restraint and seclusion. Even though your child’s triggers may change, it’s important to advocate for safe alternatives to restraint and seclusion to include in their IEP.

In addition, it’s essential to regularly communicate with your child’s IEP team on ways they can first attempt appropriate behavior management or deescalation strategies before using restraint and seclusion. Finally, request your child’s school to notify you immediately when they use restraint or seclusion. 

Does Your Child's IEP have a FBA or BIP?

Your child’s IEP outlines the special education and services provided to meet your child’s individual needs. The IEP team includes you, your child’s teachers, and other professionals who develop your child’s IEP based on your child’s specific needs. If your child’s IEP doesn’t have a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), you should request an IEP meeting. At the meeting, request that your child’s school conduct an FBA and BIP. It’s important to stress that child’s behavior is a manifestation of their disability. Remember to make all your requests in writing to keep copies for your records.

Functional Behavior Assessments help your child’s school identify why their behavior is occurring. Your child’s school uses the FBA to develop your child’s BIP. Your child’s BIP is used to create and implement individualized modifications that will help deescalate your child in situations that could otherwise result in restraint or seclusion. Your child’s BIP should include reasonable changes that can be implemented with their instruction, curriculum, or school routine when they have behavioral challenges.

It’s also essential for your child’s school to train their staff on behavior management strategies, deescalation techniques, and non-restrictive alternatives to restraint or seclusion. Training will help prevent staff employees from causing a child’s behavior to escalate. 

Are there Federal Guidelines Against Restraint and Seclusion?

No federal laws regulate or restrict restraint and seclusion in public and private schools. State laws also vary widely. The U.S. Department of Education lists a summary of the restraining and seclusion state statutes on its website. Their website also includes a map showing each state’s statutes and regulations, policies, and guidance, and currently developing and revising statutes, regulations, policies, or guidance. 

Each state has laws and regulations regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Some states have laws prohibiting certain types of restraints, while others require schools to follow the child’s IEP. It’s essential to understand the laws in your state to protect your child’s rights.

The U.S. Department of Education developed a resource document, Restraint and Seclusion, that includes 15 principles for States, school districts, and schools to consider when developing and revising policies and procedures on the use of restraint and seclusion.

  1. Schools should make every effort to prevent the need for seclusion and restraint.
  2. Schools should never use mechanical restraints to restrict a child’s freedom of movement.
  3. The school can only use restraint or seclusion if a child’s behavior poses an imminent danger of serious physical harm to themselves or others.
  4. Restraint and seclusion policies should apply to all children, not just those with disabilities.
  5. Behavioral interventions must be free from abuse and treat the child with dignity.
  6. Schools cannot use restraint and seclusion as a routine strategy to address instructional problems or inappropriate behavior as a means of coercion, retaliation, or convenience.
  7. Restraint and seclusion should never be used in a manner that is harmful or restricts breathing.
  8. Schools should develop, review, and revise the student’s BIP if there is a repeated need for restraint or seclusion.
  9. Behavior strategies (to address behaviors resulting in restraint and seclusion) should address the underlying causes of the behavior.
  10. Teachers and other personnel should receive regular training on the safe use of restraint and seclusion and their alternatives.
  11. Incidents of restraint and seclusion should be carefully, continuously, and visually monitored to ensure the appropriateness and safety of its use.
  12. Schools should inform parents of their policies regarding seclusion and restraint.
  13. Parents should be notified ASAP following each instance schools use seclusion or restraint on their child.
  14. Schools should regularly review and update their policies regarding seclusion and restraint.
  15. Schools must document each incident of seclusion and restraint in writing.

What if my Child is Nonverbal?

You can look for several signs if you believe your nonverbal child is being restrained or secluded at their school. First, look for physical marks on their body, such as bruises, scratches, and welts. Also, pay attention to changes in their behavior, such as increased agitation, withdrawal, depression, and verbal outbursts of fear or distress. Finally, look for any changes in how your child interacts with staff and other students at their school. 

If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to document them with photos and investigate further by talking to the school staff about what happened. It’s also important to contact their pediatrician, therapist, or counselor.

What Can I Do if my Child's School uses Restraint and Seclusion on my Child?

If you believe your child’s school has inappropriately restrained or secluded your child, you can file a complaint with your state’s Department of Education or a due process complaint. You can also request mediation with your child’s school district to document any incidents and retain copies of restraint or seclusion records to ensure your child’s school followed proper procedures.  

You have a right to inspect your child’s records, and you are also entitled to receive written reports from school personnel about any restraint or seclusion incidents that occur. The Individuals with Education Act (IDEA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are federal laws allowing you to review your child’s education records.

It’s also important to ask what training your child's teacher or staff member has received in using restraint or seclusion. See my post on “How Do I Request my Child’s School Records” for a sample letter to send. Make sure that you tailor your letter to your child’s situation. 

What are Alternatives to Restraint and Seclusion?

Teachers and staff should always consider alternatives before using restraint or seclusion. Alternatives to restraint and seclusion include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Positive behavior supports 
  • Teaching students social and emotional skills
  • Promoting self-regulation
  • Implementing de-escalating strategies
  • Functional behavior assessments
  • Crisis prevention strategies involving your child and their classmates
  • Consistent behavior management techniques
  • Other evidence-based practices
  • Verbal deescalation
  • Time outs to allow children to calm down in a non-locked setting
  • Physical management
  • Self-defense techniques
  • Training staff on the proper use of physical restraint, including the use of deescalation techniques
  • Classroom setup that includes an area where your child can calm down
  • Consistent behavior management techniques to help ensure that all staff members use the same approach when dealing with a student’s challenging behavior
  • Positive behavior interventions focus on rewards for desired behaviors rather than punishing undesired behaviors

Restraint and seclusion should never be used as a form of discipline, punishment, retaliation, or as a convenience. Teachers can also implement proactive classroom design to include predictable environments and provide clear expectations to students.

Finally, building relationships with students allows educators to understand their individual needs better and respond more effectively. Using these strategies, restraint or seclusion may be avoided altogether.

Remember, you know your child better than anyone else. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions when you need to. If you suspect your child has been restrained or placed in seclusion, speak to your child’s therapist, counselor, and pediatrician.  

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