School Discipline: An Occasional Series on Developments in School Disciplinary Policies and Practices

Last Updated: September 28, 2010

This article appeared in the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Iowa Rules Limit Physical Restraints, Seclusion

Discipline incidents in several Iowa schools have been the focus of recent media attention because they violate new state rules that restrict the use of restraint and seclusion on children with disabilities. In one incident, a nonverbal mentally disabled student was strapped into a chair with a seat belt when his teacher aides were absent. A student in a different school was dragged across the carpet to a seclusion room, and in another school a student was disciplined with physical force deemed abusive by investigators.

Iowa is one of a number of states that has adopted restrictions on the use of physical restraints and seclusion (isolation) after several students around the country died or were injured at school as a result of the practices. The Iowa law requires school personnel to receive training on appropriate use of restraint, and it limits the use of physical force to situations in which the student is posing a threat. Under the law, students can only be secluded for safety reasons and not as punishment. In addition, teachers must also receive regular training on safety standards. Additional training is required in districts where the violations occurred.

Federal legislation limiting the use of seclusion and restraint is also pending. In December 2009 companion bills were introduced in both houses of Congress. House Bill 4247, the "Keeping All Students Safe Act," has passed the House and been sent to the Senate. The Senate bill remains pending before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Advocacy groups hope to achieve uniform standards for all U.S. classrooms. If passed, federal legislation will apply in all states, including those that do not currently regulate restraint or seclusion in schools.

Read more:

Local coverage of the Iowa incidents:

H.R.4247.RFS — Keeping All Students Safe Act:

S.2860 — Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act — as introduced in Senate:

Summary table of all state laws, regulations, and guidance on use of seclusion and restraint:

Read more from the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.