Agencies | Governor
Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
[under development] Regulations Governing the Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools in Virginia [8 VAC 20 ‑ 750]
Action Promulgating new regulation governing seclusion & restraint in public elementary & secondary schools
Stage Proposed
Comment Period Ends 4/19/2019
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4/19/19  10:35 am
Commenter: Beth Tolley

The Time is Right to Ban Restraint and Seclusion


  • In Virginia, until January 2019, the Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension was based on the criminal code
  • In response to school shootings, zero tolerance policies were adopted (which have been shown to make things worse).
    • Skiba, Russell & Reynolds, Cecil & Graham, Sandra & Sheras, Peter & Garcia, Enedina & Conoley, Jane & Garcia-Vazquez, Enedina & Subotnik, Rena & Sickler, Heidi & Edmiston, Ashley & Palomares, Ron. (2008). Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations. American Psychologist. 63. 10.1037/0003-066X.63.9.852.
  • Behavior has been treated as though it is solely within a child’s control.  Therefore, misbehavior has been punished, rather than seen as a skills deficit or disorder (delay in social emotional development, delay in development of executive function skills, neuro- developmental disorder, result of trauma, reflection of sensory sensitivity, etc.). (We know more better now, though this knowledge hasn’t filtered down to practice).

  • When children are treated with harsh responses (verbal rebukes, shaming, exclusion, loss of privileges, time out, seclusion, restraints, suspension and expulsion instead of education and support for their lagging skills, stress responses – which is often what is occurring with a behavior outburst, or their “dysregulation”,  they not only fail to learn the academic content from missing out on the school time, but they learn from how they are treated that they are “bad” kids.  They are locked into a school to prison pipeline unless someone intervenes.

The rationale for restraints and seclusion is safety of the child him/herself, other children and the adults.There is a great deal of fear surrounding the idea of limiting, let alone banning the use of restraints.

However, there are areas in Virginia where restraints are not needed.  If it is possible some places, why not everywhere?  Of course it is possible everywhere.  It first requires the belief that it is possible and the will to see that it occurs.   A trauma sensitive school culture of safety and nurturing relationships along with trauma informed staff who understand behavior beyond behaviorism is key.  Mona Delahooke’s book Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges (available through Amazon or PESI) should be required reading for every principle, counselor, teacher and parent! 

During the past month, quite a bit of evidence of the immediate and long-lasting harm caused to children and their families has become available through the public comments, newspaper and TV accounts, Facebook posts and documentaries.It is also clear that the extent of use of these harmful procedures has not been public knowledge nor perhaps even known by administrators due to lack of reporting.


In reading the public comments, I see a lot of concerns from school personnel/administrators about the time and cost of training if restraints and seclusion rules are changed or alternatives are implemented.  I urge you to balance the cost of training school personnel against the cost to the children who are restrained and/or secluded and to their families – as well as the cost to the teachers who have not had training in understanding trauma, neurotypical behaviors, stress responses (including how to recognize and de-escalate before they build into explosions).  Please put yourselves in the shoes of these children and families. THIS IS A CRISIS!  How can we in good conscious allow restraints and seclusion to continue knowing the great harm that is occurring by using these procedures, knowing they are unnecessary and harmful and ineffective and knowing there are alternatives?

 Can we allow this to continue because it is difficult to fund or find time for training? It is impossible to put a dollar amount on the cost of the human suffering that occurs to the child during restraints or seclusion, or  the cost that is associated with the long-term impact of that trauma, though we do have well researched data documenting the impact of trauma on the brain, the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system and the immune system. ( We do, however, have data on the cost savings of eliminating these harmful procedures.  Please see Kim Sander’s comment regarding savings when seclusion was eliminated, and restraints were drastically reduced.

Please take the time to view the following two documentaries.  The Human costs can be seen through these videos.

If you have not had a chance to view some of the reports, here is a sampling:

Without the option of restraints and seclusion, is it possible to keep students and the adults working with them safe? YES! YES! YES!

How and Why is this Possible?

  1.  We have a greater understanding about behavior and its underpinnings from all of the brain research that has occurred and continues.  Outstanding resources are Mona Delahooke, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Ross Greene, Dan Siegel , Tina Payne Bryson , Stephen Porges, and many more.
  2. We are beginning to understand the extent and impact of adverse childhood experiences, resilience factors and effective ways to build trauma sensitive school environments.  There are 19 Trauma Informed Community Networks across the Commonwealth working within their communities to implement trauma informed awareness, policies, practices and training.
  3. We know what doesn’t work in managing behavior challenges and we have vast resources about effective practices (trauma informed, developmental and relationship based).
  4. The State Department of Education has already made a huge step by revamping the Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension (January 2019) so that it trauma sensitive and no longer based on the criminal code but is based on tiered systems of supports.  The challenge is to get this out to all of the school divisions and help guide the transition from punishing children for minor behaviors (many of which are beyond their control) to supporting these children as they develop their emotional regulation and executive functioning skills.
  5. The State Department of Education is providing trauma information training as well as tiered systems of support training.  (I learned about the trauma training at the Special Education Advisory Committee Meeting last month.  I don’t know details about the training or plans for more training.)
  6. There are multiple ways in which various school districts are being supported to increase the awareness and training of school personnel regarding trauma through grants and projects.
  7. Parents, including parents trained through DBHDS’ peer recovery specialist/family support training (for families with a child with a disability) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s/Virginia Family Network training programs (among others) are available to support school training and education activities.

There is evidence that not only are restraints and seclusion unnecessary, there are additional benefits from eliminating the use of these harsh, traumatic procedures:


CommentID: 71716