Seclusion and Restraint: What you can do for your child
by Caitlin E. McAndrews, Esq.
First of all, parents should know exactly what seclusion and restraint are. While precise definitions will differ from state to state, in general, seclusion means placing a student in a room alone and preventing him or her from existing, and restraint means restricting free movement of a student’s body.
If you have a child who has been secluded or restrained, you need to know that your student has rights. Just as definitions differ from state to state, so do your rights; for example, in Maryland, neither seclusion nor physical restraint should be used unless (1) an emergency situation exists and use of these techniques is necessary to protect the student or others; (2) the student’s Behavior Intervention Plan (“BIP”) or Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) allow for the use of these means; or (3) your child does not receive special education services and you as a parent give written consent for the school to use these techniques while a BIP is being developed. This means that if you did not give consent or the use of seclusion and restraint are not included your child’s IEP or BIP, then these methods should only be used in a true emergency situation. Furthermore, in Maryland, the use of physical restraint on a student during an emergency situation, unlike the use of seclusion, requires the additional condition of needing to be used to protect someone from imminent, serious, physical harm. In all circumstances, less intrusive measures must have been attempted or otherwise found to be inappropriate.
It is also worth noting the difference between physical restraint and mechanical restraint, which in Maryland is defined as using a device or material attached or adjacent to the student’s body to restrict freedom of movement. There are even more requirements for school districts in Maryland using mechanical restraints, including certification requirements.
If your child has been restrained by school staff, ask for documentation of the restraint. In Maryland, this must include what less intrusive means were attempted, what precipitated the event, what behavior your student engaged in, and the names of personnel who administered and observed the restraint. School staff must be trained to administer restraints, and restraint should not last longer than 30 minutes. Furthermore, certain positions, such as face down, are not permitted. Obtain as much information as possible from the school about what occurred and whether it complies with Maryland’s state requirements.
Maryland also provides similar requirements for the use of seclusion, and if your child is placed in a seclusion room, you should request documentation as well. In addition to the requirements noted above, when a child is secluded, he or she must be visible by school staff at all times, and staff should explain to him or her what behavior led to the seclusion and how the child may return to the class.
If you have additional questions about seclusion and restraint, please view our website at www.mcandrewslaw.com or call our office at 202-735-2300 for a free consultation.