“Every child deserves to be treated with dignity,
be free from abuse,
and treated as a unique individual
with individual needs, strengths and circumstances.

US Department of Education booklet, 2012.

More often than I would like, a parent in our chat group asks, “My child was restrained today. What can I do?” Or some other question that pertains to their child being a victim of restraint or seclusion.

Yes, I said victim. Because restraint and seclusion are never NOT traumatizing for a child. Never.

Save The Post IEP Parent Form

📧 Save this for later? 📧

We can instantly send this to your inbox. Or, send to a friend.

A child sitting in seclusion on a bench with their head resting on their knees next to a backpack and books.

And, more often than should happen, well-intended but misinformed parents pipe up, “They can’t do that! That’s illegal!”

Restraint and Seclusion in Schools

Sadly, it’s not. In most states, it is still perfectly legal to restrain and seclude out kids. I could tell you stories that would curl your hair. Like the 7-year-old who was locked in a windowless room for dozens of school days, without lunch or bathroom breaks. But, rather than dwell on the worst, let’s focus on what we can control.

seclusion and restraint

Here is what parents need to know about Seclusion and Restraint.

What IEP parents need to know about Restraint and Seclusion.

Restraint and seclusion in schools is not illegal. It varies by state. Some states have addressed it thoroughly, others have not. But the blanket “It’s illegal!” is not a correct statement. I wish! Here are two great resources for you about restraint and seclusion for all 50 states.

The Department of Education list is quite thorough. In any event, make sure that you read up on your state’s laws and guidelines.

And remember, there is a difference between a law, guideline, and policy.

Seclusion and Restraint Laws

Here are the links to those documents, in case the embedded document is not working.

What Student Restraint “Looks Like”

Restraint or seclusion in schools can look very different from place to place. It’s not always the textbook, stereotypical image of a school resource officer tackling a kid, and holding him down and then handcuffing and shackling him.

Of course, sometimes it is that dramatic.

I had a child one time (client) and he was kept in a Rifton chair all day, every day. With the tray attached in front of him, of course. It was beyond his skill level to free himself. They were doing it to keep him in one spot.

That’s restraint. It doesn’t have to be a locked room.

If a staff person is standing in the doorway preventing the child from leaving the room, that’s restraint too. It also can be your child being asked to remain in the classroom while the rest of the group goes to recess or a special.

Different Names for Restraint or Seclusion

A rose by any other name. Very rarely does a parent get the call, “We had to put your child in the seclusion room today.”

There are dozens and dozens of names for it.

Not sure why they don’t just call a spade a spade, other than to try to gaslight themselves into thinking they do not use restraint and seclusion.

It might be called a quiet room. A restoration room. A calm down room. The thinking room. It’s still a wolf in sheep’s clothing, your child was secluded.

It needs to be eliminated. It’s on its way out, but we are not there yet. But what we do know is that it is harmful to the child, often both physically and psychologically. And, surprise, surprise….it doesn’t work!

Seclusion and restraint unfairly targets disabilities and minorities. I’m not going to quote and link a whole bunch of different studies like I usually do….but much like other disciplinary policies and procedures, despite making up a small number of the student population, children who are disabled and/or minorities represent a disproportionate number of children that are the victims of restraint and seclusion.

restraints seclusion in schools special education

What can parents do about Restraint and Seclusion at school?

Be proactive. One of the things that makes me really dislike the concepts of restraint and seclusion is that it is so reactive.

It is not proactive at all! “Let’s not give the kid supports, let’s just lock ‘him up when he acts out!” But you as the parent can be proactive.

Special Education and Restraint: Tips for Parents.

  • Read your state’s policy and laws on this.
  • Now, go to your school’s site and read your school policy on it. Can’t find it? Email the Special Ed director and ask for it.
  • Get it in the IEP. Ask for FBA, behavior plan and crisis/de-escalation plan. If segregating your child and locking him/her in an empty room is only going to amp them up, why in the world would you do that? But it happens! So put it in the IEP that you do not want restraints and seclusion used on your child and list several alternatives. Put it in Parent Concerns. Yes, they can do this. None of this “Oh we can’t do that” or “We don’t do that here.”
  • Stay in open, honest communication with your child’s team.
  • If it does happen, document everything immediately, as far as what you know and what your child told you. As part of your school’s policy, they should have some reporting mechanism. Ask for a copy.

Be active with other parents. Attend school board meetings. Keep giving them the data, especially from the Dept of Ed. Ask for it to be changed. Ask that your district move over to a restorative justice disciplinary system. Create change!

What to Do Instead of Restraint or Seclusion

As always, I like to remain both child-focused and solution-oriented.

There are several evidence-based practices that can be used as alternatives to restraint or seclusion in managing challenging behaviors in schools. These practices focus on prevention, de-escalation, and creating a positive and supportive environment for students. Here are some examples:

  1. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS): PBIS is a proactive approach to behavior management that emphasizes teaching and reinforcing positive behaviors rather than focusing solely on punishment. Schools implementing PBIS establish clear expectations for behavior, provide consistent positive reinforcement, and use data to monitor and adjust interventions as needed.
  2. Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP): FBAs are systematic assessments used to identify the underlying functions or purposes of a student’s behavior. Based on the results of the FBA, a BIP is developed to address the specific needs of the student, including strategies for preventing challenging behavior and teaching appropriate alternatives.
  3. Trauma-Informed Practices: Many students who exhibit challenging behaviors have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences. Trauma-informed practices involve creating safe and supportive environments that recognize the impact of trauma on behavior and provide appropriate accommodations and supports to help students regulate their emotions and behaviors.
  4. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): SEL programs teach students essential skills for managing emotions, developing positive relationships, and making responsible decisions. By integrating SEL into the curriculum and school culture, educators can help students build resilience and develop the social and emotional competencies needed to navigate challenging situations effectively.
  5. Restorative Practices: Restorative practices focus on repairing harm and restoring relationships rather than simply applying punitive measures. Restorative approaches involve bringing together those affected by a harmful behavior to discuss the impact, repair the harm, and develop solutions that promote accountability and understanding.
  6. Collaborative Problem-Solving: Collaborative problem-solving involves working with students to identify the underlying reasons for their challenging behavior and developing mutually agreeable solutions. By involving students in the problem-solving process and addressing their needs and concerns, educators can empower students to take ownership of their behavior and work towards positive outcomes.
  7. Environmental Modifications: Making modifications to the physical environment, such as adjusting seating arrangements, providing sensory supports, or creating quiet spaces for students to decompress, can help prevent challenging behaviors and create a more supportive learning environment.
  8. Peer Support and Mentoring Programs: Peer support programs pair students with positive role models or peers who can provide encouragement, guidance, and support. Peer mentors can help students develop social skills, build self-esteem, and navigate challenges in a supportive and non-judgmental manner.
  9. Individualized Supports and Accommodations: Individualized supports and accommodations are tailored to meet the unique needs of each student. This may include providing additional academic support, implementing sensory breaks, or offering counseling services to address underlying issues contributing to challenging behaviors.
  10. Family and Community Partnerships: Collaborating with families and community resources can provide additional support for students and help address underlying issues contributing to challenging behaviors. By involving families in the intervention process and connecting students with community resources, educators can create a comprehensive support network to meet the diverse needs of students.

My Child was Restrained

First, acknowledge their trauma. And it is traumatic for kids.

My heart hurts for these kids and for you. Because I can only imagine what’s going through your mind. Do you send the child back to school? But wait, I have a job and I need that job!

There are no easy answers.

Call the Department of Education. Tell them, “Hey, I read your booklets. However at my school, this is happening, what can I do?” File OCR complaints if you feel your child has been discriminated against. Ask to meet with your school board representative.

Edited to add: Many of you have taken the time to write to me, disagreeing with my opinion. Most of you brought up the issue of the safety of other students in the classroom. That’s a very valid point.

But I still stand by my opinion and my assertion that restraint and seclusion be considered LAST when dealing with some difficult students.

Currently, in my 14 years as an advocate, in many places, it is considered first and used too often. This is based on personal experience having contact with literally thousands of families.

No, we cannot have dangerous kids in classrooms, especially if there are students in that classroom who are unable to defend themselves. But locking kids in closets isn’t the answer either. And that is happening.

Another thing I keep hearing is along the lines of “kids these days….” and lamenting about these issues of ‘dangerous students’ who are having outbursts in classrooms. I don’t have hard data, but yes, I would agree that these incidents are on the rise.

So why are we, the grown-ups, putting this on the kids? Isn’t it our job to figure this out? Why are we blaming the kids for being “worse” today than they were a generation ago?

Why aren’t we looking inward? We are the parents, the teachers, the caregivers. We are the ones who created this.

We can keep the students safe without locking some of them in closets. It can be done. Science tells us it’s not effective in behavior management and the US Department of Education agrees.

So why is it so often the ‘go to’ item for many schools? This needs to be looked into and changed.

I can tell you this–unless parents demand it, nothing is going to change.

More IEP Advice and Tips

Free IEP Binder
Featured Image