COPAA Re: DOE Resource Document on Restraint/Seclusion
- Department of Education Issues `15 Principles'
A Good Step Forward, but Not Enough to Ensure Protection
On Tuesday the US DOE issued a 45 page "Resource document"on the use of restraint and seclusion. COPAA is pleased that the Department took a clear stance that restraint and seclusion are dangerous, have no evidence base demonstrating effectiveness in reducing problem or challenging behaviors that frequently precipitate the use of such techniques., and should never be used unless absolutely necessary to protect a child or others from imminent danger of serious physical harm. COPAA is pleased with the emphasis on planning only for prevention; in cases where a student has a history of dangerous behavior for which restraint or seclusion was considered or used, a school should have a plan for: (1) teaching and supporting more appropriate behavior; and (2) determining positive methods to prevent behavioral escalations that have previously resulted in the use of restraint or seclusion. The acknowledgement that staff may not use mechanical and chemical restraint, or restraints that impair breathing, and emphasis on immediate notification to parents if restraint or seclusion are imposed are all critically important.
"Our children have a right to go to school without being harmed by those entrusted with their education," said Missy Alexander, Chair of the COPAA Board. "We appreciate Secretary Duncan's promotion of the overarching goal of ensuring that schools are safe and healthy environments where all students can learn, develop and participate in instructional programs that promote high levels of academic achievement."
For more than a decade, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) has protected the rights of students with disabilities and demonstrated commitment to ensuring that children with disabilities receive the same high-quality education as all children. COPAA has voiced concern over the improper use of restraints, seclusion and aversive interventions in our nation's schools. We have reported extensively on the abuse of such interventions and been alarmed by the tragic results, including death, that have resulted from these acts.
The US DOE document outlines Fifteen Principles that are, in a large part, consistent with the Declaration of Principles that articulates COPAA's policy position for which we have been staunchly advocating since 2008.
However, the principles are, as a Department staff articulated, only "thoughtful encouragement; "will not be disseminated directly to schools; and stop short of what the Department could have done on the matter. COPAA's Principles differ from the Department's Resource Document in two significant ways:
COPAA calls for the complete elimination of locked seclusion in schools. Given the evidence of extreme danger and harm and the lack of efficacy, COPAA urges policy that clarifies that a child should never be locked alone in a room, closet, box, or other place from which the child cannot exit.
COPAA continues to urge clear standards that prohibit restraint in all but the following conditions under which restraint may be imposed: The student's actions pose a clear, present and imminent danger of serious bodily injury to himself/herself or to others; (b) Less restrictive measures have not effectively de-escalated the risk of injury; (c) The restraint should only last as long as necessary to resolve the actual risk of danger or harm; (d) The degree of force applied may not exceed what is necessary to protect the student or other persons from imminent bodily injury.
While this document may be a step forward, we must go much farther in protecting our children, reducing the use of restraint, and eliminating the use of locked seclusion. Every time such action is imposed upon children in school it is extremely dangerous and traumatizing for all involved. COPAA urges serious and swift action to protect existing rights and end the disproportionate and discriminatory imposition of restraint and seclusion upon students with disabilities, students of color, and other disenfranchised subgroups. COPAA continues to support HR. 1381 and S. 2020 and strongly urges Congress to pass federal legislation establish minimum standards necessary to ensure the safety of all students and personnel in schools.
About COPAA The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) is an independent, nonprofit, §501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization of attorneys, advocates, parents and other professionals. COPAA members work to protect special education rights and secure excellence in education on behalf of the 7.1 million children with disabilities in America. With close to 1300 members nationwide, COPAA is at the forefront of special education advocacy. www.copaa.org