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Restraint and Seclusion in Schools

Florida currently has no state laws or state rules governing the overall use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Florida does have laws and/or rules governing restraint and seclusion use in nearly every other setting where people with disabilities (Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health) receive treatment and care. Restraint and seclusion is always potentially dangerous. Even when a restraint is performed according to training guidelines, the student and staff are at risk of injury. Students have died while being restrained. Restraint and seclusion can traumatize students. There is virtually no research to support the use of restraint and seclusion in school as a behavioral or therapeutic intervention.

For information on pending legislation regarding restraint and seclusion in school, visit our Legislation page.

Positive Behavior Intervention

Research shows most restraint and seclusion interventions could have been prevented through the use of positive behavior intervention and appropriate services, when qualified school staff is appropriately trained. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) promotes the use of positive behavior interventions. When a student is exhibiting challenging behaviors in the education setting the school should conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) of the student. The FBA will determine the cause of the behavior and a Positive Behavior Intervention Plan can be developed with intervention strategies to replace the challenging behaviors with appropriate behaviors.  For example, a student may be presented with a non-preferred task that the student finds very frustrating. In order to avoid that task, the student will act out and the student will be removed from the task. Without analyzing the behavior the school would not recognize the pattern and the student’s behavior will continue to become more challenging. Behavior is a form of communication. For non-verbal students, behavior is often their only method of communication. A student should not receive negative consequences for manifestations of their disability.  A Positive Behavior Intervention Plan should be developed on the data collected in the FBA. The Plan must be individualized to meet the unique needs of the student.

Florida Positive Behavior Support Project

The Florida Positive Behavior Support Project is part of the Department of Child and Family Studies of the Louis de la Parte Institute at the University of South Florida. The FPBSP is funded by the Florida Department of Education, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, using federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) dollars. The project works to increase the capacity of Florida's school districts to address problem behaviors using Positive Behavior Support.

The FPBSP website includes information about how districts and schools may request training and technical assistance. The website also contains on-line training modules in school-wide PBS and individual PBS, information about how to access funding, and public recognition of model schools.

Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) Project: Team Training & Technical Assistance

PBS has held a distinctive place in special education law and is the only approach to addressing behavior that is specifically mentioned in the law, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The emphasis on using functional assessment and positive approaches to encourage appropriate behavior remains in the current amended 2004 version of the law.  This Facilitator’s Guide was developed by the staff of the Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) Project at the University of South Florida. It is designed to build capacity of school districts in positive assessment based approaches to support students with significant behavioral challenges. This guide provides districts with a five step process that includes; relevant literature, narrative forms, and case examples to ensure that districts design and develop an individualized plan for each student. The PBS facilitators guide continues to be a relevant and consistent tool that is derived from evidenced-based practices. More importantly, it provides an easy step by step process that can be implemented in the school, home, and/or community.

No Consent Form

What can you do if you do not want your child restrained?

The following link, adapted by TASH from a letter written by Tricia and Calvin Luker of The Respect Ability Law Center, provides a suggested letter for parents to utilize: http://www.tash.org/dev/tashcms/ewebeditpro5/upload/Sample_No_Consent_Letter.doc


Sample No Consent Form

Re: (child's name and birthdate) 

Dear (Principal, Program Director, or IEP Team Leader)

My child, (child's name), is a ________ grade student at ______ school. (Child's name) has a disability (or insert label) and is receiving special education services. I want to thank you for all of the help and positive support you and the teachers and staff at (name of school) have provided (child's name) over the years. We are concerned that (child's name's) behavior challenges are being, or might in the future be, addressed in part through the use of aversive interventions, restraint or seclusion (including seclusionary time-out or procedures referred to as "physical management" or "restrictive procedures"). Examples of these practices include, but are not limited to: forcible holding or dragging, the use of ties or straps, sprays in the face, slaps, deliberate humiliation, deprivation of nutrition or exercise, and time out rooms. This letter is to make clear that I have not authorized and will not consent to any activity that involves the use of any of these procedures at school or while (child's name) is transported to or from school. I know that special education law requires the use of a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) which is expected to lead to a Positive Behavior Support (PBS) plan to address behavior challenges. If the school feels (child's name's) behavior is so challenging that aversive or restrictive procedures, seclusion, time out, physical management, or restraint are being considered or used, it is clear to me that there is need for a FBA and the development of an effective PBS plan. I expect to participate in this assessment and the development of a PBS plan for my child. 

I am sure you are aware of the number of news reports in recent years describing the deaths, trauma, and injury of children with disabilities while or just after being subjected to aversive interventions, restraint, or seclusion. I am writing this letter as a precautionary action and to provide clear instructions that none of these techniques are to be used with my child. If any of these techniques are currently being used, or have in the past been used, it is important that you notify me of this and terminate any use of such procedures immediately. 

If (child's name) behavioral issues are a challenge now or at any time in the future, I am requesting that a behavior support team meeting be convened to discuss these challenges, plan for an FBA across environments, and begin work toward establishing a positive behavior program to address (child's name) particular needs. I wish to exercise my right to participate in all such meetings. 

I want to work with you and with (child's name) teachers and professionals at (name of school) to be sure that (child's name) learns to develop positive behavioral skills in an environment that is safe for him/her, for his/her peers, and for school personnel. I, like you, want my child's school to be a safe and secure environment where all students can learn. I want to work with you to help create that environment. 


Complaint Process

Filing a Report with the Department of Children and Families

  • To file a report by telephone call  1.800.96ABUSE   
  • To file a report online  http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/abuse/report/

The Department of Children and Families will investigate suspected cases of abuse in the school. If your concerns meet the definition of an emergency situation: FIRST, call 911 or your local law enforcement agency

Office of Professional Practices Services

Marian W. Lambeth Chief
325 West Gaines Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0400

Phone: 850-245-0438
Fax: 850-245-0621


Office of Professional Practices Services investigates alleged misconduct by educators who hold a Florida Educator Certificate or a valid application for a Florida Educator Certificate.

State Complaint Florida Department of Education

Ms. Bambi J. Lockman, Bureau Chief

Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services
Florida Department of Education

325 West Gaines Street, Suite 614
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0400

Fax #: 850-245-0953

The Florida Department Of Education maintains a state complaint procedure whereby parents and other interested parties may file a written complaint alleging that a public agency has violated state or federal requirements regarding the education of students with disabilities or gifted students.

The signed, written state complaint must:

  • be clearly identified as a complaint
  • include a statement which describes how the district has violated a requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and/or the corresponding state requirements
  • include an explanation of the facts on which the statement is based
  • include a signature and contact information for the complainant(s)
  • allege a violation that occurred not more than one year prior to the date that the complaint is received
  • if alleging violations with respect to a specific child, include:
    • the name and the address of the residence of the child
    • the name of the school the child is attending
    • a description of the nature of the problem of the child, including facts relating to the problem
    • a proposed resolution of the problem

In addition, the party filing the state complaint must forward a copy of the complaint to the school district serving the child at the same time the complaint is filed. (Section 300.153 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations)

Office of Civil Rights

Mail or Facsimile: Complainants may mail or send by facsimile a letter or use the OCR’s Discrimination Complaint Form available from one of OCR’s enforcement offices. In your correspondence, please include:

  • The complainant’s name, address and, if possible (although not required), a telephone number where the complainant may be reached during business hours;
  • Information about the person(s) or class of persons injured by the alleged discriminatory act(s) (names of the injured person(s) are not required);
  • The name and location of the institution that committed the alleged discriminatory act(s); and
  • A description of the alleged discriminatory act(s) in sufficient detail to enable OCR to understand what occurred, when it occurred, and the basis for the alleged discrimination (race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age or the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act).

E-mail: Complainants may file a complaint, using the following e-mail address: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). (Use the same procedures as above.)

Online: Complainants may file a complaint with OCR using OCR’s electronic complaint form at the following Web site: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html.

Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA)

An underutilized tool for protecting the civil rights of confined or detained youths is the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). Established by Congress in 1980, CRIPA provides the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) the authority to bring legal action against state and local governments for violating the civil rights of persons institutionalized in publicly operated facilities. Under CRIPA, the Civil Rights Division protects detained or incarcerated juveniles in prisons, jails, psychiatric hospitals, and other publicly operated facilities from dangerous conditions and unsafe practices of confinement (Puritz & Scali, 1998). CRIPA should apply to students in school settings.

Complaints can be directed to:

Special Litigation Section, Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66400,
Washington, DC 20035-6400


Additional Resources

These are a few resources that may be helpful to families and advocates.

2009 National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) report: School is Not Supposed to Hurt

  • The report shows an unsettling use of seclusion and restraint tactics resulting in physical and emotional injuries, as well as deaths in schools serving students grades K-12. The report documents specific cases, including several from Florida.
  • Press Release: National Disability Rights Network Releases Shocking Report on Seclusion & Restraint in U.S. Schools

2008 Guidelines for the Use of Manual Physical Restraint in Special Education Programs

  • This recent Department of Education (DOE) technical assistance paper defines manual physical restraint and explains it is justified only in emergency situations when an immediate and significant threat to the physical safety of the student or others exists. It also recommends training, documentation; reporting and monitoring steps schools and districts should take.

2006 Fire Marshall Rule - Seclusion Rooms Firesafety

  • This Fire Marshall rule is a tool families can use to ensure seclusion rooms are not fire hazards.
  • Complaints about the use of seclusion in rooms that do not meet the standards in this rule should be made to the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities, Inc. and the local and state Fire Marshalls. Visit the State of Florida Fire Marshall web site for more information.

1992 Use of Time Out in Special Education Programs: Guidelines for Time Out Procedures

  • This DOE technical assistance paper has not been updated in many years, but some of the information can still be useful in advocacy

United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report

  • Testimony before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives. The GAO recently testified before the Committee regarding allegations of death and abuse at residential programs for troubled teens. Given these reports, the Committee asked the GAO to (1) provide an overview of seclusions and restraint laws applicable to children in public and private schools, (2) verify whether allegations of student death and abuse from the use of these methods are widespread, and (3) examine the facts and circumstances surrounding cases where a student died or suffered abuse as a result of being secluded or restrained. GAO reviewed federal and state laws and abuse allegations from advocacy groups, parents, and the media from the past two decades.

Letters by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

  • Letter by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to George Miller, Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor House of Representatives.
  • August 3, 2009, Secretary Duncan sent a letter to Chief State School Officers encouraging each state to review their current policies and guidelines regarding the use of restraints and seclusion techniques in schools and if appropriate develop or revise them to ensure the safety of students.

School Restraint, Seclusion Bill Clears House Committee

  • The House Education and Labor Committee voted Thursday to pass the bill known as the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act by a vote of 34 to 10. Now, the measure must be considered by the full House and it must be taken up in the Senate before it can become law.

Wrightslaw Website - Abuse, Restraints and Seclusion at School

  • Use of Restraints as Discipline, Physical & Sexual Abuse, Time Out/Seclusion, Positive Behavior Support (PBS), Protection & Advocacy, Resources, Publications and Cases

NAPPI’s position on the issue of seclusion and restraints

  • NAPPI: Non Abusive Psychological and Physical Intervention

Hearings on Restraint and Seclusion

  • From the Committee on Education and Labor blog 

Restraint & Seclusion in California Schools: A Failing Grade

  • Disability Rights California conducted in-depth investigations into allegations of abusive restraint and seclusion practices involving seven students in five public schools and one non-public school. These investigations revealed both the failure of school personnel to comply with existing regulations and the failure of current law to sufficiently regulate the use of these dangerous practices. 

Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act: What Does It Mean For Children with Disabilities? by Jessica Butler, Esquire

  • From Wrightslaw

GAO: Schools restrain, confine disabled children

  • USA Today report on the GAO Report

Autism Speaks Endorses New Federal Legislation to Prevent Abuse Of Children With Autism And Other Disabilities At School

  • Autism Speaks endorsed the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247)

Families Against Restraint and Seclusion Blogs

  • http://floridafamiliesagainstrestraint.blogspot.com/
  • http://familiesagainstrestraintandseclusion.blogspot.com/
  • This blog site and the work being done is dedicated to the many children who have lost their lives or who have been physically, mentally, and/or emotionally harmed by restraint, seclusion, and other abusive practices in public schools, and to the parents, family, and friends who love these children.

CHADD: Restraint and Seclusion in Schools

  • CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) has been working primarily with the APRAIS (Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions and Seclusion). CHADD joined the APRAIS coalition last year after the National Disability Rights Network released its report, School is Not Supposed to Hurt.

Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions and Seclusion (APRAIS)  

  • APRAIS seeks the elimination of the use of seclusion, aversive interventions, and restraint to respond to or control the behavior of children and youth.