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Restraint and Seclusion Causes Death of Student with a Disability: Understand Your Right to Reject These Dangerous Practices

from DREDF:
Another child with a disability, Max Benson, has died after being subjected to restraint at a non-public school where his school district placed him. While we do not have all the details, we know that 13 year old Max was held in a dangerous prone restraint with his face down on the floor for nearly an hour. He was ignored for a significant period of time during which staff failed to recognize he was in acute physical distress, in violation of California state law. DREDF is saddened and deeply disturbed as the details of this tragic, unnecessary death emerge, and outraged that these practices continue to be used routinely without adequate oversight by either the public schools that are placing a child in these programs or by the states that are supposed to be monitoring them.
Seclusion is the practice of isolating a student from others, and restraint is physically holding in response to serious problem behavior that places the student or others at risk of significant injury or harm.
The dangers of physical restraint are well-documented. A 2009 report from the United States government's non-partisan General Accounting Office determined that, "Restraint and seclusion can be dangerous, severely traumatizing, and may cause death." Furthermore, there is no evidence these practices reduce the occurrence of problem behaviors, and they can be counterproductive and dangerous. Children have died and have been injured across the country.
The majority of so-called "problem behaviors" that are used to justify seclusion and restraint could be prevented with early identification and intervention. Resorting to seclusion and restraint procedures is illustrative of insufficient investment in prevention techniques. Most students restrained and secluded at school are students with disabilities – they comprise about 12 percent of all students enrolled.
According to the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights data in 2015/16, students with disabilities represented a whopping 71 percent of all students restrained and 66 percent of all students secluded. Racial  discrimination plays a role, too – African American students represent 19 percent of students with disabilities served by IDEA but 36 percent of the students who are restrained at school through the use of a mechanical device or equipment designed to restrict their freedom of movement.
In September 2018, CA Governor Brown signed AB 2657, which seeks to prevent and reduce the use of restraint and seclusion in schools except in cases of serious physical harm. While prone restraints are banned for use in schools in other states, they are still legal in certain circumstances in California (something we need to change) but the law states that the student must be monitored. This law states that an educational provider may use seclusion or a behavioral restraint only to control behavior that poses a clear and present danger of serious physical harm to the pupil or others that cannot be immediately prevented by a response that is less restrictive. Both the California statute and the proposed federal legislation, the Keeping All Students Safe Act(H.R.7124 / S.3626) prohibit the use of any physical restraint that restricts breathing.
What you can do to reduce your child's risk for restraint/seclusion:
  • If possible, keep children included in public school settings. Incidents of restraint and seclusion happen less often in public schools. 
  • Address behavior problems early. Remember: Not only "acting out" behavior — any action that impedes learning is a problem. Ask for a Functional Behavior Assessment (download sample letter template) if your child is struggling to meet behavioral expectations. The team must understand what causes the behavior so that it can be prevented and the child needs to learn effective replacement behaviors.
  • If a child needs a segregated setting for a specific period of time, visit and ask about any proposed placements statistics on restraint and seclusion. Ask staff to describe the last time they used restraint and have them demonstrate what they do. Ask how support staff are trained and monitored. This is especially true when schools rely on aides/paraprofessional staff to remove children from class who are "noncompliant" to locations where monitoring is poor.  Ask whether aides using these practices are supervised by higher level staff, and, if so, find out who that is.
  • Ask your school district/charter what the plan is to return the child to a less restrictive setting as quickly as possible. And ask your district how they monitor the private placement over time – it isn't an option, it is a mandate. They have that obligation.
  • Put a requirement into your child's IEP that, in the event your child is restrained or secluded, you must be notified within 24 hours, and will receive a copy of the incident report within 1 business day. If you discover that your child has been restrained or secluded, schedule an immediate IEP meeting with your child's team. Be sure to request that the staff actually DOING the restraint fill out this report. If it is reported secondhand—it is likely to overlook key information and detail about how the situation unfolded. Request new assessments, observations, and update the behavior plan based on what caused the behavior.
  • If you feel the school district/charter is not monitoring your child's safety or you discover that restraint or seclusion is used, you can file a complaint with your state department of education. One incidence of restraint can be too many. A pattern suggests serious deficiencies in the IEP or its implementation.
  • Get involved.  Join DREDF in our efforts to make sure that dangerous practices such as prone restraint are not used, and work at the local, state and national level to express your concern about the discriminatory use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities.
For help understanding other ways to individualize your child's program to help prevent use of these dangerous practices, or how to join efforts to create systems change, contact your Parent Training and Information Center.

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