Kentucky School Board Approves Limits on Use of Seclusion and Restraint

Last Updated: October 29, 2012

This article appeared in the October 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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A new policy approved by the Kentucky State School Board prohibits physical restraint of students except when a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm. The new policy is aligned with recommendations released this year by the federal government. Previously, the state did not regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools.

Specifically, the policy requires school staff to receive training to help them identify situations considered serious enough for restraint and to learn positive behavior supports. In addition, a “core team” of teachers and other staff must be trained in the proper use of seclusion and restraint and must experience restraint as part of their training.

The policy requires that schools use less restrictive interventions such as verbal commands and redirection before resorting to physical restraint or seclusion. It forbids mechanical restraints such as straps, chemical restraints, any physical restraint that could be life threatening, and restraints that limit the ability of students who depend on their hands to communicate, for example students who use American Sign Language. It also prohibits the use of seclusion as punishment, to prevent property damage, as a convenience for staff, or as a substitute for less restrictive forms of timeout. School staff must visually monitor students who are placed in seclusion rooms.

Several reporting requirements are also included. Schools must notify parents within 24 hours if their child is restrained or secluded and must allow parents to request a “debriefing session” with school staff. In addition, schools must report to the state how seclusion is used.

In public comments at the Board meeting a few school district superintendents, principals and special education administrators expressed concern that staff or other students could be injured if the state limits their ability to restrain out-of-control children and that guidelines for when the procedures are appropriate are too vague.

However, Board members responded that school staff may use restraints when there is threat of harm.

Also speaking at the hearing were family members of students who had suffered injuries or psychological trauma after being restrained or secluded inappropriately.

A recent publication by the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, Protection and Advocacy Division (Kentucky P&A) highlights the widespread use of seclusion and restraint in the state and presents cases and photos in which children were injured.  Kentucky P&A has been documenting incidents of seclusion and restraint and has been a partner and supporter in the development of the regulation.

The Kentucky policy now goes before the Legislative Research Committee, a standard procedure for all state regulations. The policy will not likely go into effect until the 2012-13 school year.

A federal survey found that 70% of students who are subjected to restraint or seclusion are disabled.

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Related Categories: In Local News, Rural Policy Matters

Related Tags: Disabilities, Discipline