Restraint and Seclusion Bill Passes U.S. House

Last Updated: March 26, 2010

This article appeared in the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

A bill that would strictly limit the use of physical restraints or locked seclusion of students has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is headed for the Senate. HR 4247, also known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act is the first step toward federal regulation of these practices in schools. Other institutions receiving federal monies such as hospitals are already regulated in the use of restraint and seclusion. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last year documented hundreds of cases of improper use of these techniques in schools, many of which resulted in injury to students and in some cases student deaths. Twenty-three states currently have no limitation or very few limitations on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The federal law would not totally ban these practices, but would impose a standard of “imminent danger” of physical injury and the absence of any available, effective, less restrictive responses in order for school staff to restrain or seclude a child. Chemical restraint — the misuse of medication to control movement — is also prohibited in the bill. Additionally, no untrained school staff could engage in these practices.

Restraint is generally defined as the use of physical force, devices, or drugs to limit a student’s movement or to control behavior. The GAO documented the use of ropes, bungee cords, duct tape, and gags on students as well as the misuse of the assistive devices to impede the movement of students with disabilities.

Importantly, if the bill passes, the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) required for each child with a disability could not include restraint or seclusion as a planned intervention. Disability rights advocates have long advocated for the restriction and outright ban of many specific restraint techniques that are disproportionately used against students with disabilities, often without their parents’ knowledge.

The bill would also require schools to notify parents immediately after any incident when restraint or seclusion was used and would require all states to have laws governing the use of restraint and seclusion in schools that meet or exceed federal standards.

In 2009, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), an organization of the federally-funded state Protection and Advocacy (P&A) and Client Assistance Programs (CAP), released a comprehensive report on the use of seclusion and restraint, School is Not Supposed to Hurt. Together, P&A and CAP are the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.

NDRN updated the report in January of this year, noting that although public attention and grassroots advocacy on these practices has skyrocketed, only two states that did not have existing state law on the use of seclusion and restraint took legislative action.

Read more:

Read a summary of the bill here:

The Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys released a report last year on the use of restraint and seclusion on students in special education programs, “Unsafe in the Schoolhouse: Abuse of Children with Disabilities”:

The Department of Education produced a state-by-state report on current laws regulating the use of restraint and seclusion in schools:

Read more from the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.