Restraint, Seclusion and Isolated Time Outs

In the past month, I have been involved in representing parents in several cases where a student was subjected to abuse at the hands of a staff member at a public therapeutic day school. The abuse was related to the use of restraints and time outs. Regrettably, the incidents of restraint, seclusion and the use of isolated time outs were the norm at the school. There were multiple videos showing staff mistreating young children and forcing them into locked rooms for significant lengths of time. 

Schools often state that they only use restraints in limited circumstances, for example, when a student is a danger to themselves or others. That is the rhetoric told to parents when they visited the school as a potential placement for their child. Parents reported that they specifically denied consent to restrain their child or for the school to place them in an isolated time out room. This request was denied over the course of two school years. When the parents asked to see the rooms where the restraints took place, the school and the special education district refused to allow them to view the spaces. Yes, there were several options for restraint and seclusion. Students were often physically dragged down the hallways where they were brought to what the school euphemistically referred to as “the office. “

I have been practicing in the area of special education law for twenty-five years. I have a grown son who has a disability.  There are days that I think nothing will surprise or shock me. I am not cynical but have had some very complicated and tragic cases in my office. I was wrong. The videos were disturbing. However, what was most upsetting about these cases is the failure of the school to understand that the widespread practice of restraint and seclusion, which is deeply imbedded in the culture of many schools, is harmful to children. There are no statistics that support this practice as having any positive impact on children’s behavior. It was clear in an IEP meeting that there was no plan to change the practice of restraint and isolated time out. This was not being done to prevent a student from harming themselves or others but was utilized for minor disciplinary violations and work refusal.

The emphasis was on the fact that they had discharged the staff involved in the incidents. There was no questioning that in one case the student was subjected to these interventions 70 times in the course of a school year.  The system itself is broken. Staff will come and go and may be trained to do a better job of restraining children while still perpetuating a cycle of harm and trauma. Firing the staff does nothing to correct the toxic culture in these schools. Administration should be questioned on how they have allowed this abuse to continue. The use of these interventions is so embedded in the culture of some schools that no one even questions whether this practice has any research base or does damage to children. The real question is how this can be allowed to continue.  These practices will continue unabated unless parents demand that their child not be subjected to restraint and isolated time outs. Regrettably, many if most parents are kept in the dark about these “interventions” and have no idea that they can object to something the school insists on doing.

Things Parents Can Do:

  1. Ask the school or district for their written policy on the use of seclusion, restraint and isolated time out.
  2. Insist on seeing the areas where your child might be sent.
  3. If you have any questions or concerns about your child being secluded or restrained, please call our office at 312-640-0500 to speak to Micki Moran.

Selected Resources:

Dangerous Use of Seclusion and Restraints in Schools Remains Widespread and Difficult to Remedy: A Review of Ten Cases; February 12, 2014; United States Senate; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Majority Committee Staff Report

Feds Release New Stats on Restraint and Seclusion in Schools; By Michelle Diament; April 24, 2018; Disability Scoop

A More Compassionate, Productive, Effective Approach to Understanding and Helping Behaviorally Challenged Kids; Dr. Ross Greene;

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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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