Restraint and Seclusion in Schools-Guest post by Attorney Sharon Falen of The Child & Family Law Center

Rear View of a Sad Silhouette Young Boy Sitting on the Floor Against Black Background with Copy Space.

Illinois has been recognized as one of the model states in school discipline reform, but there is much to know about this issue. This article offers a brief summary of the two major means of controlling behavior in the classroom: seclusion and restraint. Seclusion is removing a student, often in the form of an “isolated time out,” which is defined as confinement of an individual in a time-out room or other closed space. Restraint involves the use of physical force to restrain a student’s movement without harm. It is important to note that each board of education has an obligation to adopt policies and procedures for these behavioral interventions in relation to students with disabilities specifically.

Seclusion is permitted only to prevent physical harm or to maintain an orderly environment. “Time outs” must take place in a space large enough for at least two people, with no harmful objects or other materials present. The law requires that a supervising adult maintain visual monitoring and ability to communicate with the student at all times. Seclusion must end within 30 minutes at most.

Illinois limits restraints to address immediate threats of harm to self or others. It is noteworthy that profanity and verbal disrespect alone do not constitute immediate threats of harm. Additionally, no mechanical or chemical restraint, i.e. other than one’s physical body, may be used to restrain the student. If the student uses sign language, absent likelihood of harm, the student must be allowed to have hands-free communication for brief periods of time.

Training in conflict de-escalation and proper methods of physical restraint is required for districts that permit the use of isolated time outs and/or restraints, and the school district must document and evaluate every instance that either method is employed by staff.

One of the most significant takeaways for parents and child advocates is that both means of behavioral intervention should be used only as a means of maintaining a safe and orderly enfironment. The law makes clear that seclusion and restraint are meant for school discipline in this sense but should not be used as individual “punishment” for any child. Additionally, school districts must notify parents within 24 hours after either seclusion or restraint is used. A written notification is required, and the law requires that the notice includes the child’s name, date and description of the incident, and contact person.

For a more in-depth discussion of this issue, refer to the U.S. Department of Education summary table and other authorities. You may contact our office, as well, for further information or if you need legal consultation or representation with any school discipline matter.


Butler, Jessica. How Safe is the Schoolhouse? July 25,2015

U.S. Department of Education. Restraint and Seculsion: Resource Document. Summary of Seclusion and Restraint Statutes, Regulations, Policies and Guidance, by State and Territory: Information as Reported to the Regional Comprehensive Centers and Gathered from Other Sources, Washington, D.C. 2010.

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About Micki Moran

Micki Moran is the founding partner of The Child and Family Law Center, Ltd. She dedicates her practice to providing legal assistance to children and families who are in need of representation in the areas of special education, disability law, juvenile and young adult criminal law, abuse and neglect, guardianship, and mental health issues. Micki's practice is founded on the principle that children and their families require and deserve excellent legal representation with a multidisciplinary approach that works with multiple systems of care and creates communities that support and improve the quality of all peoples' lives.
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