How Safe Is The Schoolhouse? An Analysis of State Seclusion and Restraint Laws and Policies

May 1, 2012

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Seclusion and restraint are highly dangerous interventions that have led to death, injury, and
trauma in children. They should be restricted to only rare emergencies where they must be
deployed to protect someone from physical harm. No federal laws protect America's 55 million
school children from seclusion/restraint. Bills have been introduced by Congressman George
Miller and Senator Tom Harkin. With no single federal law, American children are covered by a
patchwork of state laws, regulations, nonbinding guidelines, and even silence. This report
focuses on state restraint/seclusion laws and policies that impact children with disabilities.



  • 30 states (previously 29) have mandatory, binding statutes and regulations providing meaningful protections against restraint and/or seclusion for children with disabilities.
  •  Only 18 states by law require that less intrusive methods either fail or be deemed ineffective before seclusion/restraint are used, and only 17 require it to end when the emergency ends.  
  •  Only 16 states by law limit restraint to emergencies involving an immediate risk of physical harm or serious physical harm.  By law, 4 states ban all seclusion--including situations where a door is blocked by furniture, staff holding it closed, cheap childproofing, etc.  Another 8 by law allow seclusion only to prevent immediate threats of physical harm.  The remaining 39 lack laws limiting all seclusion to physical safety emergencies, although some do ban locked seclusion.
  •  There are 18 states that by law forbid all restraints that impair breathing.  In addition, 16 states by law ban mechanical restraints; 11 ban chemical ones.  Only 17 states require staff to continuously watch a child in a seclusion room; a child in Georgia died while a teacher sat outside, only intermittently monitoring him in the room.
  •  By law, 20 states require schools to take steps to notify parents on the same day or within 24 hours.  There are 26 states with no legal requirement to tell parents that a child was restrained/secluded.