Tips: Restraints and Seclusion at School

By Shelly McLaughlin, Pathfinders for Autism


sad teen girl

regulations state that exclusion, restraint, and seclusion may be used only after less restrictive or alternative approaches have been considered and attempted or determined not to be feasible. However, there are few things scarier to a parent than being called to a school only to discover their child locked in a seclusion room, or improperly restrained either by school personnel or mechanical devices. At that moment, a parent may feel a sense of panic, fear, anger or rage. However, in the best interest of your child, you need to think of those airline instructions, “If the emergency oxygen masks drop, place your mask before you assist with your child’s.” Take a deep breath to calm yourself first, and then follow these steps.

Ask your child what happened

Ask your child for his or her account of the events leading to, during, and after the restraints or seclusion. Speak with the child using his or her preferred method of communication. Take written notes of your child’s explanation.

Speak to the school administration

Request to speak to the school’s principal or a building administrator for details of the incident. Ask what happened, what protocol was followed, who was involved, and request a written copy of the incident report.If necessary, call 911

If you arrive at school and you believe your child has been injured, call 911 and file a police report.

Take pictures

Take pictures of any bruises, cuts, or markings on your child. If possible, take a picture of the restraints that were used, or photograph the seclusion room.

See your pediatrician

If your child has sustained any markings or injuries due to the restraints or seclusion, take your child to your pediatrician to document the injuries.

Call the Department of Social Services

If your child has been injured, or if a staff person has restrained your child in a way that does not comply with regulations, or has injured your child while doing a restraint, contact your local Department of Social Services. The school is also obligated to call DSS if there is suspected abuse. Find your local department.

Notify your county school system’s Director of Special Education

Call the Director of Special Education. Do not assume that the school will inform your county’s central administration about the incident. Follow-up with a written email so that you have a record of the conversation. You may also want to copy your county school’s Compliance Officer. To find the contact information for your county’s Director, visit Pathfinders’ online provider database, select County Public School Systems, choose your county, and locate the record labeled Special Education.Call Disability Rights Maryland

Notify Disability Rights Maryland immediately so they can begin an investigation. Services provided by Disability Rights Maryland are free of charge. Make sure you convey that your child was restrained, tied, handcuffed, unable to move, placed in a room from which they could not leave, etc. Disability Rights Maryland’s Intake Department can be reached at 410-727-6352 ext.0.

Call the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE)

Call MSDE’s Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services Family Support Services at 800-535-0182. At any time you can call to request assistance from a Family Support Program Specialist.

Seek the help of a psychologist

If your child is feeling trauma or anxiety from the experience, consult with a psychologist. Do not be afraid to see a therapist yourself if you are having a hard time coping with your child’s incident. To find psychologists, visit Pathfinders’ online provider database, select Health Care, and choose Psychologist, Child or Adult.

Request in writing an IEP meeting

Review your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Be aware if restraints, exclusion, or seclusion are included in your child’s behavior plan, which is a part of the IEP. If you need help understanding your IEP, you may contact MSDE’s Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services Family Support Services at 800-535-0182.

Additional Resources:

“Discipline of Students with Disabilities” from the Maryland State Department of Education
While the entire book is a comprehensive resource of discipline under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), pages 29-39 focus specifically on restraints, seclusion, and exclusion.

“Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document” from the U.S. Department of Education

Fact Sheet from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities

APRAIS – The Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions and Seclusion

Wrightslaw – Abuse and Restraints in School

© 2010 Pathfinders for Autism

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