Restraint and Seclusion in Special Education
Keeping Children Safe in an Unsafe World: Call your reps in support of the “Keeping All Children Safe In Schools” Act to stop uncontrolled restraint and seclusion. (Click HERE to go to the NAA action alert on the topic.)
By Adriana Gamondes
How would you know if your child were being restrained or secluded in school? If you ask the thousands of parents whose children have already been abused in schools, you wouldn’t until it was too late. But if you’re like most people, you kid yourself that you would. You’d know before it happened because you’re diligent, vigilant, caring and smart. Of course this implies that those whose children didn’t escape abuse were none of these things. They let it happen.
I don’t think any of us mean to be unkind when we think this way, but we are being very predictable. In criminal psychology, the defense mechanism is sometimes referred to as the “Safe World Effect”. I learned about it when I was a domestic violence advocacy volunteer. It goes like this: “God’s in his heaven and bad things don’t happen to good people”. The natural continuation of that thought is, sadly, “Bad things do happen to bad people”. Or maybe not bad people—just people who aren’t like us; who aren’t as good, diligent, vigilant, caring, smart. Or maybe our children are somewhat verbal and would tell us. Or our children aren’t violent behavior problems—so unlike what we imagine the casualties to be. Or maybe this only happens to people with different genes. In any case, God loves each of us more than other people.
Unless you spend your days locked inside the house wearing a flak suit, you think this way. So do I; so does everyone. That’s because the defense strategy isn’t without its uses:
apparently it’s how most of us talk ourselves into driving on the freeway every day, or getting on an airplane. When the risk is there but not that enormous, and when it would hinder daily functioning to consider every statistical danger in every instance, the old “vital lie” kicks in. But there are times when it’s better to suspend the mechanism on a case by case basis, when risk outweighs benefits of emotional defense, and when the defense mechanism turns us into bystanders who don’t lift a finger while “other people’s children” are abused, even killed, because we’re pretending to ourselves that our children aren’t next.
And maybe our children aren’t next. Maybe our children just get to watch another child being abused, restrained— even killed— from a front row seat. And after that they can have their turn.
I suspect that the “safe world” defense strategy is precisely how the autism epidemic has been allowed to continue; because no one wants to believe their child is next. It’s how most of the public views families effected by autism: that we’re somehow different, somehow not as good or as deserving as they are. God gave our children “bad genes” because God loves us less. It’s why the public resists the idea that autism can happen to anyone and therefore resists the idea of environmental cause. Realizing that autism can happen to anyone is tantamount to losing God’s love for some. The genes-only theories could not have been better designed to fill the “safe world”, can’t-happen-to-my-child trough for public consumption. This alone might explain why genetic theories in autism are all basically swill but still somehow manage to fly.
It’s safe (as anything can be) to say that most autism families have been partly stripped of that happy go lucky defense strategy. Some of us were temporarily completely stripped of it (I became a nervous driver. No flak jacket though). But in order to get through the day, most of us have to rebuild some form of emotional protection and have drifted back into some version of functional delusion. It’s just that, in this instance, we can’t let it extend to the issue of abuse in schools because our children are next whether we believe it or not. Without federal laws in place to protect children from abusive restraint and seclusion, the risk is real. It’s also important to bear in mind that, in the vast majority of cases, the children suffering from abusive restraint and seclusion were not posing a threat when incidents occurred.
Fortunately, there’s a more reliable way of defending our children from probability: raising hell in any situation where our own children, or children like ours—or anyone’s children—are put at risk.
In a short time, there will be a US Senate vote on S.2860 (HERE). The House version of the bill, H.R. 4247— the Keeping All Students Safe in School Act— has already passed. S.2860 now has to go through the Senate HELP committee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) and on to the full Senate vote.
The federal bill has numerous problems according to several legal experts who’ve tracked it from inception, chiefly that the bill does not ban deadly face down and supine prone restraints. The argument made for allowing the use of deadly restraints is the same on state and federal levels: that, “if done right, the holds do not restrict breathing”— and only holds which “restrict breathing” are prohibited. Ironically, many schools cherry pick or concoct their own science on this matter. The “science” is usually derived from data provided by private, for-profit crisis management training outfits, usually run by former law enforcement personnel, which make most of their money providing training seminars for schools. And the schools will often hire only those crisis management professionals who demonstrate strategies the schools prefer. So, in spite of numerous deaths from traumatic asphyxiation and heart failure due to the use of face down and supine prone restraints, and in spite of the fact that these holds are banned from use in other federally funded institutions, the holds have been deemed “acceptable” for use on children.
The federal bill also places further restrictions on families’ right to sue schools for abuse (by barring the use of 42 U.S.C. §1983, (the “Ku Klux Klan Act” HERE), instead requiring families to seek enforcement and redress through states’ Protection and Advocacy agencies or “P&A’s”.
Unfortunately, some states’ “P&A” agencies are funded through the Department of Education. A clear conflict. And those P&A’s which aren’t funded through the DOE often lack the funding to make headway in a restraint and seclusion issue plaguing public schools in the US which has been growing along with the autism epidemic. For instance, in spite of the fact that, for several years, Protection and Advocacy agencies could have enforced an already existing law—42 USC - US Code - Title 42: The Public Health and Welfare (January 2003) (HERE)— which provides some far greater protections of students than even the current federal bill, these agencies have not done so. Furthermore, no one will make the P&A’s enforce this statute. Flawed or not, the federal bill up for the US Senate vote may be all we have.
The argument all along has been that the Federal bill is “better than nothing” in that it bans mechanical restraints, chemical restraints, restricts the use of physical restraints except in cases of “imminent threat of injury”, and requires mandatory reporting of all restraint and seclusion incidents (reporting to parents, reporting on a state level, and reporting on a federal level; all of which are important to create a national incident database). Since some states have virtually no protections and no mandated reporting, the bill certainly is better than nothing at all.
But it turns out that there may be something worse than nothing: on April 27th, the Florida House passed a bill which many believe gives nearly unrestricted license for schools to use restraint and seclusion against students. Tucked at the bottom of Florida House Bill 1073 (HERE), the portion pertaining to crisis management in schools legalizes any physical or mechanical restraint that does not “restrict breathing” ( again, restricted breathing as defined mostly by data derived from reports by private, for-profit crisis management report employed by schools); and allows any locked room (such as a closet) to be used for solitary confinement as long as it has a working light and meets state Fire Marshal regulations. The state bill does require reporting, though only on a state level, not a federal level. This could be a hindrance to tracking the prevalence of restraint, seclusion and abuse in schools nationwide. Lack of cohesive national data is then employed as leverage by those who support the use of deadly restraints and abusive seclusion practices, because opponents of R&S can’t argue against proponents’ numerous claims that the use of restraint and seclusion and resulting deaths and injuries are “rare” (see how that works?).
Florida anti-R&S activists sweat blood to try to stop the Florida bill with a “Kill Bill” campaign, but to no avail. On April 29th, the Florida bill passed the State Senate and will go next to Governor Crist’s office to be signed into law (HERE).
Another painful irony of the struggle for children’s safety in Florida is that members of some prominent Florida anti-R&S advocacy groups had originally written and submitted a state bill proposal outlining protections for students and positive strategies for crisis management. But, in the end, the advocates’ bill was ditched in favor of the present, fatally flawed state legislation. The parent activists will make a last effort to reach Governor Crist, but hopes aren’t running high.
Because a federal statute on R&S would supersede state statutes in the case that federal regulations are stronger than existing state laws, students in states which currently have weak or virtually no student protections would be safer with the passage of the federal bill. For this reason, it has become more important than ever that the federal bill goes through.
In the case that the federal bill does not pass, we can’t drop the ball a second time. Perhaps it would be an opportunity to move for the creation of a better federal bill, one without such extensive tort protections for schools and one which at last bans the face down and supine prone restraints which kill children every year. How many? As previously stated, without mandatory reporting, no one is sure.
But in the mean time, if the federal bill fails in the Senate, more children will be injured and more lives lost because students in some states would be without any protection at all for an unknown duration. So to repeat—the Keeping All Children Safe in School Act must pass. Please call and email your representatives to strengthen the odds that it does. Florida’s precedent of virtually legalizing abusive practices in schools could quickly be repeated in other states—and not just the ones that “God loves less”.
Adriana Gamondes, a former theater director, lives in Massachusetts with her husband and recovering twins.
Try being the one on the receiving end of kicking punching and biting. I would type more of a response but i need to clean out my bite wounds and ice my bruises.
Posted by: crystal williams | February 24, 2014 at 05:34 PM
My son is not yet 3 and this is is LAST day of Early Childhood Development school in MO. This was my sons first week and today I found out the teacher was using a piece of material tied to a chair and then placed around his lap and when he tried to get up they put pressure on his legs to remind him to remain seated...this was a red flag for me. My child was not hurting anyone or himself the teacher stated he was to hyper and the sad part is my son had cried when I picked him up on the second day and I took him the next day because I thought since his Autism caused social anxiety it was good to push him to go. I feel like a crappy mother and I have been sick to my stomach all day. There will be a school meeting but only because I want this stopped for ALL children. Her face and chest were red as she told me how hyper my child is. This is how it starts...and who knows what he went through. I am shocked. This has to stop. What if her temper got out of control and she killed my child trying to make him sit down. He has sensory issues and I was told he would jump on a trampoline or swing...they never told me he would have any type of restraint. Please people do not trust public schools. The principal told me they cannot refuse any child its up to the parents to take a child out of school...and that my child was very mobile and teachers cannot work with him..so this was her way of letting me know they do not want my child at their school. I pray these people feel the wrath of God for hard telling what they are doing behind closed doors....
Posted by: Kathy | January 31, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Any child who has GI, heart, Down's Syndrome, seizures, asthma ....should never be prone or supine restrained! This is in the books but never followed.
Write a No restraint letter and paste it in your IEPs-see APRAIS website for some forms suggestions.
Posted by: Maria | May 04, 2010 at 03:31 PM
Thanks for speaking up, Phyllis, and for your spearheading and hard work in Florida. I can't even imagine the frustration and shock that you in the front lines must endure every time someone with the power to protect children refuses to. But they keep doing it and you keep facing them down even so, which makes all of you that much more extraordinary.
The quotes from Florida government officials in the article you also appeared in were pretty telling. First the officials perpetuate the myth that the dangerous practices towards children are reserved for "violent" disabled children (when in fact the vast majority of injuries and deaths were to children who posed no threat at the time); secondly they show only concern about the "safety of teachers" (reiterating this lie that restraint and seclusion are practiced only judiciously on raging children with disabilities).
The Association for School Administrators wrote a letter to the Ed Labor committee lobbying to keep face down and prone restraints and mechanical restraints in schools' arsenals. They complained of the "negative tone" of the Ed Labor Committee towards schools and school staff. Yet, in the letter-- and echoed over and over on the state level as schools defend the abuses-- children with disabilities are depicted (for their purposes) only as "violent". The nonviolent victims who have been restrained, secluded and sometimes killed only for displaying symptoms of their disabilities were never mentioned.
Counter this with the fact that advocates working against restraint and seclusion are always clear that good teachers and staff exist and that positive behavior approaches need to be instituted to protect the safety of all-- which also serves to provide the basic education that many disabled children need.
I'm not seeing that balanced approach from the school administrators or the DOE. In their zeal to deflect blame, schools appear to be officially demonizing children with disabilities. They need to restrain themselves.
Posted by: Adriana | May 04, 2010 at 01:08 PM
Thank you for another great article Adriana. I thought if we we to the legislators in Florida and told them our stories of abuse and neglect in the public school system they would listen to the people. All they did was turn their backs on us and listen to the the DOE and school system. It's hard to believe these things are going on in America but they are. Now that our Florida legislators have let us down we will focus and advocate on the federal bill. Something must happen to change this corrupt system of letting school staff do whatever they want to our children. People in office need to stop turning their backs on this abuse.
Posted by: Phyllis M. | May 04, 2010 at 10:47 AM
Union Jack correctly says:-
'the critical issue is always having enough properly trained and sensitive staff: otherwise things will still go wrong'
During a varied career teaching in Scotland, which spanned age groups three to sixteen plus, and special needs, I never once witnessed any child being restrained by teaching staff. In fact, the law precludes any kind of restraining contact with children, except where staff have been trained in such techniques.
Children assessed with 'special needs' including autism are normally taught in special 'units' by specially trained staff. Staff to pupil ratios are high in these units.
Union Jack is correct about the problems with what I will call 'unstructured times' such as lunch recesses and playtimes. This is where most of the bullying and physical violence tends to happen.
My experiences with autistic children suggests that they are far more likely to be bullied, both verbally and physically, by other children, than be bullies themselves. They are often unfairly blamed for other children's misdemeanors because of their innate suggestibility and inabilty to use language effectively whilst explaining.
When violence is involved, the safety of all the children has to be the number one priority.
Posted by: Jenny Allan | May 04, 2010 at 03:05 AM
Thank you all for the personal stories and thoughts on this. I think we all agree that there's only safety in numbers and in enforced laws.
I'm horrified that someone had an actual story echoing the supposition I mentioned-- that kids are being psychically abused as bystanders. It just has to stop.
Someone also pointed out that typical children will be next as well. That's probably true. If school staff become increasingly inured to witnessing and engaging in child abuse towards disabled children on the job, and if guilty schools lobby for stronger and stronger legal protections of administrators and staff in cases of abuse, then what kid is safe?
It's a good point to make to families of typical children in raising awareness, otherwise many are in for a reality check I wouldn't wish on a dog.
Posted by: Adriana | May 04, 2010 at 01:15 AM
Adriana, thank you pointing us in the right direction regarding legislation that can end these barbaric practices and bring swift legal punishment to those who hurt our vulnerable children.
And Beth I., thanks for widening the spotlight to include the other victims of this abuse -- children like your son, who were forced to witness it, and threatened with it. What a horrible perversion of the educational compact between instructors and their students.
Posted by: nhokkanen | May 03, 2010 at 10:55 PM
Re: "in spite of numerous deaths from traumatic asphyxiation and heart failure due to the use of face down and supine prone restraints, and in spite of the fact that these holds are banned from use in other federally funded institutions, the holds have been deemed “acceptable” for use on children."
My first thought was "UNBELIEVABLE" but obviously this is horrifically true. Also true is the fact that the ADD, ADHD, and neurological learning disorders are of the same epidemic proportions as autism and affect 1 in 6 now which more than 16 times greater than autism statistics. Many of these frustrated children have things in common with autistic children (including the primary source of the cause, vaccines). All of these children should be tested for heavy metals at the very least.
When lead exposures create learning disorders the children are tested and chelated to remove the lead, so that they can calm down, concentrate, learn and recover from lead poisoning. But since the school system and most of the parents are in the dark about vaccine injuries, none of these learning challenged children get tested for heavy metals, so no one figures it out....Except in a school in Illinois where 90% of the children developed learning disorders so they went searching for an environmental exposure and found it in school supplied fruit drink packaging that had very high levels of aluminum. All these kids brains were full of aluminum, but DUH it's perfectly OK to inject huge levels of aluminum right into little children with vaccines. (Just read this article recently and can't seem to locate this in my files right now but I think it was on Dr. Mercola's website?)
Anyway, since no one seems to be interested in investigating the CAUSE of all of these learning disabled children and WHY a lot of these children have "behavioral problems", why can't these school administrators simply contact the parents when their children are "out of control" and allow the parents to make the choice to come and pick their children up from school? But Noooooo, they put them in a locked closet all alone, or slam them down on the floor and duct them to chairs??!!! What kind of cruel idiots make these kind of decisions and take these kind of actions??!!!
With children who are learning disabled due to toxic overloads from vaccines or other toxic exposures, the parents should be contacted immediately so that they can pick their child up from school. In many cases it is possible that at least some of these children's behavioral reactions are from chemical exposures in the school, such as pesticide spraying and cleaning chemicals. Children with glutathione and Methyl B12 deficiencies and porphyrin detox pathway issues will often have terrible emotional and behavioral reactions to these toxic chemical exposures that their detox system simply cannot handle. So the best solution would be to remove them from the school environment and parents should seek to determine whether their child has indeed been exposed to chemicals. But even if this does not appear to be the cause, the parents have a right to be notified so that they can decide what to do, instead of leaving this situation in the hands of people in the school system who may or may not have a clue as to what is really going on with learning disabled childrens' behaviors.
And sadly some of these children are having reactions to psychiatric medication that is so often used with children now.
SAD DEPRESSING TRAGIC STORY........
Posted by: Autism Grandma | May 03, 2010 at 10:15 PM
My heart bleeds when reading this poignant piece. The following comments from parents are also very strong and meaningful. You are so right when you say this isn't about just our children - it's about all children - even the children who will never be restrained - or so we think. Thank God for everyone who sees this as an epidemic because that is exactly what it is. And the issue has to be attacked as such. I will be sure to let all of my representatives in Congress know - for my son and for all of our sons and daughters. Thank you for writing this.
Posted by: SebnZaveMom | May 03, 2010 at 09:33 PM
@ Union Jack, from "across the pond":- I think you'll find that, in the UK, teachers, carers, nurses and others are still legally allowed to restrain ASD children if necessary - now define "necessary". It's an extremely difficult area, especially if/when you're faced with an out-of-control ASD child about to endanger themselves and/or others.
Posted by: ElizaCassandra | May 03, 2010 at 05:43 PM
I just think of the little ones being dropped off by their parents. I think how the parents drive off thinking that their child is safe, instead only hand delivering him/her to an individual who has been taught to torture them.
Posted by: Joedad | May 03, 2010 at 03:15 PM
This is one area where the culture is very different in the UK - for a long time it has been the consensus that it is not acceptable to strike or restrain children, and this is enshrined in law. As parents we have generally felt trust - at least at this level - with the schools, but the critical issue is always having enough properly trained and sensitive staff: otherwise things will still go wrong, and for instance out of school respite remains a dangerous territory.
Obviously, this legislation is absolutely essential as a beginning - a line has to be drawn.
Posted by: Union Jack | May 03, 2010 at 02:31 PM
What is truly disturbing are that some parents are well aware of extreme restraints and do nothing because well, "Johnny needs to go somewhere." I kid you not. I have heard this excuse from one too many parents. The majority of us would never tolerate this as parents, but as long as there are deadbeats like this permitting the restraints the schools will continue to restrain and yes, abuse the children.
Posted by: ND | May 03, 2010 at 02:27 PM
“God’s in his heaven and bad things don’t happen to good people”. The natural continuation of that thought is, sadly, “Bad things do happen to bad people”. Or maybe not bad people—just people who aren’t like us; who aren’t as good, diligent, vigilant, caring, smart."
-I appreciated how you outlined the thought process at work here... it's an important concept to grasp, and I'm glad you opened with it before going into the rest of the article.
Posted by: Heather Zelikov | May 03, 2010 at 11:45 AM
This is another epidemic being denied! These children have been harmed enough. Parents don't assume anything. With the lack of funding god only knows the type of training staff is receiving. It is easier to force a child to the floor or lack them in a closet than to provide scientific behavior supports.
Posted by: Lisa | May 03, 2010 at 10:39 AM
My son is five years of age and is autistic. He watched his classmates being sprayed in the face with water, put in closets for unauthorized spankings, and hit with rulers and flyswatters on a daily basis...He endured many threats (of "being next") and teasing from the teachers in his room. We had no idea this was happening to these children until our son starting echoing the teachers dialogue while he was playing at home. We sent a tape recorder in his backpack and our worst fears were confirmed through 12 hours of recordings. Mothers and fathers, if you have a feeling that something is not quite right, please follow that instinct as you are probably correct. We have been through a six-month battle to get these teachers removed and I am happy to say that we were successful! Since we had hard evidence of the mistreatment, our local school system took notice of the situation and did something about it.
However, it has taken our son over six-months to get past his distrust and fear of the school environment...He internalized the negativity that was present in his classroom and spent the first two months modeling the behavior of his former teachers (spraying his siblings in the face with cleaner, turning common household items into paddles, etc). We've worked hard to get him through his anxieties and we're hoping that this terrible situation has not ruined his outlook for years to come. Our son's story is testament to the fact that even if your child is not being physically restrained, secluded, or abused, he/she may still be witness to the mistreatment of others and can be equally affected.
Posted by: Beth I. | May 03, 2010 at 09:37 AM
Thank you Adriana for once again alerting us the often unknown dangers our vulnerable children face. As if we don't have enough to worry about, we can't even send out children to school for them to be safe. It is almost as if our children have been targeted and war has been waged against them.
The de-sensitization that must occur to these teachers and staff is min boggling. How anyone can think it is alright to use any kind of restraint other than one to stop a child from eloping is beyond me. I don't even consider this a restraint.
Obviously we have some major abuses going on at our schools and it is not about the "out of control" child. The issue is far to big for that. These archaic practices are being used as punishment for things such as non compliance (any kids you know of with this problem?)Restraint and Seclusion are being used as treatment instead of an emergency situation.
It is important that individuals truly understand what is happening. Children are being sent to school and many are being locked in closets, tied to chairs, and sat on face down for behaviors they cannot control. The schools often see our childrens' behaviors as a discipline issue instead of part of their disability. This needs to end!
Parents keep your eyes open. Even if your child is verbal, they cannot always communicate effectively. Stop by at school unannounced if you can, examine your child's body before and after school -listen for any possible signs that he/she is not happy at school.
Posted by: Momtospboy | May 03, 2010 at 09:03 AM
I truly hope that people will get involved in stopping the abuse and murder of children with special needs. It's unreal that we have to even think about these atrocities being done to our children...but they are. One mother that I know in MO finally put her foot down and said that no one in the school was to restrain her son any longer (they had been using deadly prone restraints on him starting at age 5) after seeing her son come home with bruises for over a year. Since they couldn't restrain him anymore, they kicked him out of school. She's fighting to get him an education, but that costs money which is in short supply for a single mother of 3, working part-time and going to school part-time. This article is correct in the fact that P&A does nothing to help. Using restraints is also a way for schools to show that a child can't be handled by schools and needs placement in juvenile facilities or institutions. They get rid of these kids so that they no longer have to even deal with all of the extras that child might require. Lives are literally being stolen away in schools across this country...it has to stop!
Posted by: Tricia | May 03, 2010 at 06:28 AM