November 10, 2014

A study from the University of New Hampshire found that the rate of restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities in schools remained constant, in spite of new policies in many states. The study focused on students with disabilities after a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Education found that three-quarters of students who were restrained and 58% of students placed in isolation had been diagnosed with a disability.

The report defined restraint as the use of physical or mechanical means to restrict one’s freedom of movement, not including physical escorts or the use of appropriate prescribed devices, such as seat belts or orthotics. Seclusion was defined as the involuntary isolation of a student, not including “time-outs,” in which a student is placed in a non-locked setting for the purpose of calming down.

The study found that 69 percent of school districts do not use restraint, and 87 percent do not use seclusion at all. However, the schools who reported using these methods between 2009 – 2010 were highly likely to still be using them during the 2011-2012 school year, in spite of the fact that approximately half of U.S. states revised their policies on restraint and seclusion during this time period.

The report also showed that restraint and seclusion were more common in affluent school districts with few minority students, and that schools in cities were more likely to use these strategies than those in suburbs or rural areas. Autism Daily Newscast ran a story in February reporting that schools in the state of Connecticut, reported over 33,00 incidents of restraint or seclusion during the 2012-2013 school year, which can be read here.

The authors of the report concluded, “Although restraint and seclusion rates across states continue to range considerably, between-state variation is overshadowed by the tremendous within-state variation. Taken together, these findings suggest that local policy decisions and other factors related to school culture, rather than state policy, seem to be the greatest determinants of restraint and seclusion rates.” Here is a link to the full report

Some schools continue to use these policies, in spite of changes to state laws. Autism Daily Newscast printed a story about the Pioneer School in Portland, Oregon, which continued to use seclusion rooms in 2013, in spite of a state law banning the use of such rooms. The story can be read here.

While it is encouraging that the majority of school districts do not use restraint or seclusion, it is disappointing that many continue to do so, in spite of state laws banning or limiting such practices. In 2011 Senator Tom Harkin introduced the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” which would prohibit the use of restraint or seclusion in public schools. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education in 2013. Even if the bill eventually passes, it may take more than a new law to change current practices in certain school districts who continue to use restraint and seclusion.


About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on and

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