Does restraint work? It's in my child's IEP.

It depends upon what you mean by 'work'. In too many cases children have died or been injured (both physically and mentally) from restraint by school staff. And given the huge knowledge base and IDEA and PA Chapter 14 explicitly stated preference for positive behavioral methods (instead of negative/punitive methods), there is no reason it should be used as anything but a last resort -- in cases where reasonably prudent people use the words "serious injury" and "imminent danger", after all other methods have been used properly and still did not work. So in most cases, it is not necessary. Unfortunately using restraint is cheaper and faster than the work and data collection involved in a positive behavior plan.

Also the 1975 Willowbrook Consent Decree* specifically prohibits it. In other words, a court found restraint was so ineffective and inhumane, that it was banned.

What can you do? Write a letter to the principal of the school and specifically refuse permission for any form of restraint to be used on your child, even if the school believes you have signed permission at some point to allow restraint procedures. Then consider calling an immediate IEP meeting and consider a re-evaluation, including a functional behavior assessment (FBA) by a masters level, board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) with a behavioral psychology background (and ideally experience with children like your child). An advocate can help you with preparing for this meeting. An attorney may be needed. Also, learn more about FBA's and Positive Behavior Methods based on Behavioral Analysis. [link]

It happens. More than you would expect.

Govt Accounting Office report statistics show Restraint Used Far too Often on vulnerable children This reports hundreds of incidents abuse ending in injury, trauma, or death, with the greatest impact on children with disabilities. These included children tied and duct-taped to furniture, broken noses, broken arms, left alone in seclusion rooms for hours, and death of children in face-down prone restraints. [link to pdf of report]

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates Report on Restraint (5/09)
The report entitled, Unsafe In The Schoolhouse: Abuse Of Children With Disabilities, details 180 incidents of the use of abusive interventions against children with disabilities in school. [link]

11/30/09 Tampa News Channel 8 reports on a child left in an isolation room by an aide, and found later after school by the janitor. [link]
Jan 19 2010 Denver Elementary School Secretary Accused of Taping Six Year Old Student's Mouth and Hands Pleads Guilty Disabled Students Injured by Restraint (11/4/09)
AUSTIN – Texas educators forcibly pinned down students with disabilities more than 18,000 times in the last school year, sometimes injuring them in the process. [lin] School is Not Supposed to Hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools. ” A shocking new report released by The National Disability Rights Network suggests abusive use of seclusion and restraint on school children and a lack of state and federal regulation governing such practices. National Disability Rights Network. January 2010.
Letter to George Miller on the frequent use of restraints , Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. December 8, 2009.
Kittredge, Betsy Miller. “Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in the Schools Act.” U.S. Committee on Education and Labor. December 9, 2009.  
“Kentucky works towards curbing abuse in public schools.” "About two weeks ago Janet Board got a phone call from her grandson's school in Meade County. It wasn't the first time this had happened. Her grandson, who we'll call Sam, suffers from O.C.D., early on-set bipolar and post-traumatic stress. "When I got to the school they told me he was in the gymnasium. I went down there. A principal holding one arm, a teacher holding the other and another teacher sitting on him pinned against the gym floor."" Caleb Campbell, Public Radio Station WKMS. February 12, 2010.

GAO: Schools restrain, confine disabled children.” USA Today, Gregg Toppo. May 19, 2009.

Uncovering child abuse and neglect at residential, public and private schools 9/21/2010. Greg Kutz, Washington Post

Disabled children at Mass. school are tortured, not treated, Laurie Ahern, Washington Post, 10/2/2010

Hazelton PA: HASD teacher's aide abused autistic student
"An aide objected to Shadie's sudden disinterest in the question-and-answer exercise and, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week against her and the Hazleton Area School District, started to bully him...The lawsuit, filed last Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Scranton, said district officials were aware of Forte's abuse, but allowed her to remain employed and active in the same life skills classroom where she terrorized Shadie." Greg Sisak, Hazelton Speaker, Dec 21, 2010


Take Action.
In December 2009, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act was introduced in Congress, H.R. 4247 and S.2860.

Call Congress, 202-224-3121 (TTY 202-225-1904). Ask for your Senators and Representative's office's education aide. Be sure to say your call/email is about the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, and give the number, H.R. 4247 in the House and S. 2860 in the Senate.If you get voicemail, leave a detailed message. [email or local number: for the House, and

It's been happening for a while.

Read about the Willowbrook case in the book Willowbrook Wars by David Rothman. Robert Kennedy, after touring Willowbrook in 1975 noted the conditions for over five thousand adults diagnosed with mental retardation were "less comfortable and less cheerful than the a zoo".

Willowbrook Consent Decree (pdf)

Feb 2009 Time Out Rooms a Public Health Hazard, by Dee Alpert, Esq.

More reports on restraint and abuse of children in NY (Special Education Muckraker) including: a 2003 Study that reported 1997 IDEA amendments on Discipline were not enforced.












"PBS Positive Behavior Support refers to a comprehensive set of strategies that are meant to (1) redesign environments in such a way that problem behaviors are prevented, and to (2) teach students new skills that make problem behaviors unnecessary (Carr et. al., 1998; Horner & Day, 1991; Foster-Johnson & Dunlap, 1993; Horner & Carr, 1997). (Source: OSERs funded PBS Training Module 1)


Free Online Training modules (video and text) on Positive Behavioral Interventions, FBA's and more. [link]


PaTTAN's consultants on Positive Intervention, are available free to Pa School Districts. (Area of Expertise: Behavior).

Private Behavioral Consultants are listed through BACB, an organization, which certifies professionals to have certain set of competencies and skills in the science of Behavior Analysis.


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