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Use of Restraint and Seclusion Under Scrutiny in Virginia, Connecticut

Legislation that would regulate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools has cleared both the Virginia House and Senate, with the latest vote coming just a day before a governor-appointed child advocate in Connecticut released a report saying that schools and teachers need more guidance on alternative methods of handling student behavior. 

Restraint and seclusion is most often used with students who have disabilities, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education. About 12 percent of the nation's students receive special education services, but students in special education represent 75 percent of the students who were physically restrained during the 2011-12 school year, and 58 percent of those who were secluded, which is defined as "involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving." (Seclusion is distinguished from "timeouts," which involve "the monitored separation of the student in a non-locked setting, and is implemented for the purpose of calming.")

The Virginia legislation requires the state board of education to adopt a policy consistent with the Education Department's guidance on restraint and seclusion. That document outlines 15 principles for schools to follow, including making every effort to restrict the use of restraint and seclusion; a ban on mechanical restraints or chemical restraints; notifying parents each time their child is restrained or secluded, and never using restraint or seclusion for punishment or discipline, coercion, or as a convenience. 

The bill passed the Virginia House unanimously on Thursday; a Senate version with the same language passed Jan. 27 on a 35-4 vote. The Associated Press reported that Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, supports the legislation

In Connecticut, the state's child advocate, Sarah Eagan, issued a "call to action"  on restraint and seclusion, saying that the practice traumatizes children and does not have any therapeutic value. Over the past three years, 1,313 incidences of a child being injured while being restrained or secluded have been reported, with more than two dozen of those injuries considered "serious," said the report, which was released on Wednesday.

Connecticut state law already prohibits physical restraint except in cases of emergency, but seclusion is allowed both for emergencies and as a planned behaviorial intervention. Eagan said state lawmakers should prohibit the planned use of seclusion from being written into a child's individualized education program.

In addition, Connecticut should ban the use of mechanical restraints unless they are medically prescribed (for example, some children with physical disabilities may use chairs with straps to help with their stability). Also, any seclusion rooms must either have no locks, or locks that automatically release in case of an emergency, the report recommends. 

From the report: 

A critical theme underlying the recommendations for this report is the need to identify, evaluate and appropriately educate children in all areas of disability, with an emphasis on social-emotional and functional communication development from the youngest possible age. Reducing restraint and seclusion requires that all children benefit from skilled instruction, with attention not only to academics but also to social-emotional learning and positive behavioral supports. The state must consider requiring and supporting schools in an effort to implement evidence-based, tiered frameworks for prevention and intervention.

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