A National Issue on the Local Level: Use of Seclusion and Restraint to Control Student Behavior in KC-Area Districts (Part 1)

Illustration Credit: 123rf stock image

This article is one in an occasional series using data to provide insight into important education-policy issues in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

U.S. Senators are holding hearings about seclusion and restraint. Elected officials in Kansas are considering legislation regulating the use of seclusion and restraint. State board of education members are drafting regulations intended to govern the use of seclusion and restraint. District school board members have policies relating to the use of seclusion and restraint. Teachers are responsible for implementing those policies in the classroom. The use of seclusion and restraint is an issue resonating from the national to the local level.

Students feel the effects of all this policy making and implementation. Sometimes the result is injury and — in rare cases — even death.

Many educational experts suggest that when it comes to keeping out-of-control students from seriously injuring themselves and others, prevention is the best practice. Others, however, argue that prevention doesn’t always work, and sometimes educators need policy guidelines and training to use safe, physical means when faced with the need to control extreme behavior.

Because of all the media attention focused on this contentious issue, the KC Education Enterprise wanted to find out which of the 28 districts in the Kansas City metropolitan area use seclusion and restraint and how often.

Concerned that educators may unconstitutionally single out certain populations in the use of seclusion and restraint, the U.S. Department of Education requires most (but not all) districts to submit reports to their Office for Civil Rights Data Collection. The most recent data available are from the 2009-10 school year. Although the department required that only half of all public school districts nationwide participate in this program, all but seven districts in the Kansas City area were included in this representative sample.

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise

Districts for which no information is available include:

The 21 districts required to report to the federal government provided information on use of mechanical restraint, physical restraint and seclusion.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, mechanical restraint is “use of any device or equipment to restrict a student’s freedom of movement.” Some examples include duct tape, rope and straps. This form of restraint is rarely used by districts in the metro area. The following video is a simulation of one form of mechanical restraint in a prison setting. However, students as young as five have been handcuffed in schools, and the emergency response belt demonstrated is also suggested for use with juvenile offenders:

Physical restraint is “personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head freely.”

Seclusion is “involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.”

No district in the Kansas City metropolitan area reported using all three methods of restraint. Twelve districts used two of these methods, and three used one. There were six districts that did not use seclusion or restraint at all during the 2009-10 school year, and they were not necessarily the suburban schools usually considered to be more progressive.

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise

Three districts reporting using both mechanical and physical restraint:

Nine districts reported using both physical restraint and seclusion:

Two districts reported using just physical restraint:

One district reporting using just seclusion:

Six districts — including the two largest urban districts in the metro area — reported that they did not use any form of seclusion or restraint during the 2009-10 school year:

These six are the schools conforming with what many educational experts currently recommend as the best practice, which is to focus on prevention and avoid the use of seclusion and restraint altogether.

Coming up next: a closer look at the districts and schools reporting use of seclusion and restraint. Some districts make only occasional use of these control methods, and in some districts the use is more widespread. Use also varies widely from school to school within districts.


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