|Action||Promulgating new regulation governing seclusion & restraint in public elementary & secondary schools|
|Comment Period||Ends 4/19/2019|
Restraint and Seclusion in Virginia Schools
There are significant problems nationwide in how students with disabilities are treated with regards to severe behaviors that are a manifestation of their disability. According to the Office of Civil Rights, “122,000 students across the nation were physically restrained, mechanically restrained, or secluded in 2015-2016” and of that number, “students with disabilities represented 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students secluded.” (1) In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools own strategic plan documents show that students with disabilities make up 14% of the student population, and yet represent 40% of all discipline cases in the county. And these statistics are just from documented incidents, and there is much that goes undocumented. I appreciate that Virginia is taking steps to address this at the state level, however research has shown that “of the 10 states with the highest levels of restraints and seclusions, six had meaningful prohibitions meant to limit the practice.” (2) It is imperative that Virginia take note and not just create “guidelines” that some may follow and some may not, but instead actual policy and law with a plan for follow up and enforcement to back it up.
Mechanical restraints and prone restraints must be prohibited. The U.S. Department of Education itself says that “Schools should never use mechanical restraints to restrict a child’s freedom of movement.”(3) That same document also states that “Restraint or seclusion should never be used in a manner that restricts a child’s breathing or harms the child. Prone (i.e., lying face down) restraints or other restraints that restrict breathing should never be used because they can cause serious injury or death.” Virginia must follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Education and ban mechanical restraint and prone restraint.
Seclusion must be clearly defined, if not prohibited entirely. School districts right now are getting around reporting rules for seclusion specifically because there is so much left to interpretation. “Room clears” - where the student acting out is left in the room with a single teacher while all of the other students are cleared out of the room is still seclusion, yet there are districts that do not document it as such. There are other times when the reporting is skirted around because the district does not view it as seclusion if the door remains unlocked. Whether a door is locked or not is immaterial. Involuntarily removing a person from their typical placement to a one-on-one setting with supervision - with the door unlocked - would be considered seclusion in a mental health setting. The same should be true in schools. If I, as a neurotypical adult, were involuntarily removed from one setting to a one on one setting with another adult, I would not feel I had the ability to leave - whether the door was locked or not. Asking our students to make distinctions that adults would not make themselves is ridiculous.
Seclusion is traumatizing. Many students demonstrate heightened and worsening behaviors after experiencing seclusion. That alone should give VDOE pause to truly step back and ask yourself if that is appropriate for our students. If you choose not to prohibit it, then you MUST address the trauma. There MUST be mental health staff who can work with that child and trauma-informed practices on the premises.
The recent reports I’ve read regarding restraint and seclusion across this state are horrifying. If parents treated children this way, we would face Child Protective Services and have our children removed from our care. Schools are supposed to be a SAFE place for children to learn and grow. That goes for ALL children! As a parent and an educator, I demand that VDOE take a stand on these issues now and protect our children.
- 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection, School Climate and Safety, pg. 11-12. U.S. Department of Education. April 2018
70,000 Students with Disabilities Secluded, Restrained in School. Christina A. Samuels. EdWeek.org. May 16, 2017.
Restraint and Seclusion Resource Document, U.S. Department of Education, 2012