Occasionally in school, behavioral issues require students to be restrained or separated for the safety of themselves or others. The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education requires schools to report each time this happens, since restraint and seclusion techniques are ripe for abuse. Tens of thousands of reports come in each year, but it’s known that those statistics don’t represent the whole situation.
For example, for years, Fairfax County Public School reported zero incidences of restraint or seclusion, but during that time they recorded hundreds of situations in internal communications and notes to parents. Many school districts appear to be in the same situation.
Many parents object to seclusion being used in schools at all. For instance, Jennifer Tidd, the mother of a 13-year-old boy with autism in Fairfax schools, has seen him put in seclusion more than 400 times in three years. She attributes his lack of progress to this. His behavior regressed, she says. He grew to violently hate school and teachers, and even used deliberate incontinence to get out of the seclusion room. Since transferring to a new school in 2018, one with a strict policy against seclusion, his behavior has improved again.
Tidd could afford to move her son to a private school. Many can’t.
Accurate reporting is the first line of accountability for schools, in absolutely everything. Restraint and seclusion are both extreme actions, not everyday discipline; they should be used only as a last resort, and they should be heavily documented. Parents need to know, supervising bodies need to know, and the Department of Education needs to know.
When Cara Bailey’s 12-year-old son, who has nonverbal autism, was restrained at his school in Vancouver, Washington, she only learned about it by confronting the teacher over hand-shaped bruises on his arms and legs.
“You expect that they’re there to educate him and keep him safe,” Bailey said. “That trust was broken for him, and it has a huge effect on him.”
Many feel that restraint and seclusion should not be used at all. And the first step towards deciding that is gathering information. Accurate information serves both sides of the debate, which is why reporting and supervision is the highest obligation for anyone using these methods.
Teachers, have you used restraint or seclusion techniques on your special-needs students? Parents, have your special-needs children been restrained or secluded due to behavior issues? What was the outcome, and do you think restraint and seclusion should be used in schools? Speak your mind in the comments!