The updated 2015 edition of How Safe Is the Schoolhouse? An Analysis of State Seclusion and Restraint Laws and Policies, written by Jessica Butler, has been published by the Autism National Committee. The report describes and examines state restraint and seclusion statutes, regulations, rules, and policies/guidelines in effect as of March 2015. The report is available at: http://www.autcom.org/pdf/HowSafeSchoolhouse.pdf

This report uses 51 “states” to include the District of Columbia. Some of the highlights of the report are as follows:

  • Only 22 states have laws providing meaningful protections against restraint and seclusion for all children; 34, for children with disabilities.
  • A few states have weak laws, a few others protect only against one practice and not the other; and others have only nonbinding, suggested guidance, or nothing at all.
  • Only 16 states by law require that an emergency threatening physical danger exist before restraint can be used for all children; 20, for children with disabilities.  Because restraint is so dangerous, it should be used only when necessary to protect physical safety.
  • Fourteen states protect all children from non-emergency seclusion; 20 protect children with disabilities.
  • By law, only 2 states ban all seclusion for all children; 5, for children with disabilities.
  • The remainder have statutes and regulations limiting seclusion to emergencies threatening physical harm.  But, many states have loopholes in their laws that undermine them and leave children unprotected from dangerous restraint and seclusion.

It is vital that parents be notified quickly of the use of restraint or seclusion, in order to watch for concussions, hidden injuries, trauma, and to seek medical or psychological care. But 34 states still do not require parents to be notified within 24 hours when restraint and seclusion are used on all students, 25 states, when used on students with disabilities. Parents of children with Down syndrome should be particularly cognizant of the fact that they may be at particular risk of medical complications from these dangerous practices. State laws could contain a provision that restraint and seclusion is forbidden when medically contraindicated.

According to Ms.Butler, the report shows that the bills championed by Senator Harkin and Congressman Miller in prior Congresses have impacted the states.  In December 2009, Congressman Miller introduced the first national restraint/seclusion bill. At the time, 9 states had laws providing meaningful protections from both seclusion and restraint for all children; 21 for children with disabilities. Today, 29 states have meaningful protection for all students; 34, for students with disabilities. Senator Harkin’s bills in 2011 and 2014 added several important safeguards. States have responded to both bills by taking action and by incorporating many of the new features in Senator Harkin’s bill.

Still, state action is no substitute for a strong federal bill that mandates comprehensive protections for students. How Safe is the Schoolhouse examines the state laws because the issue has been left to the states. But parents of a student in Memphis, Tennessee or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania can move to suburbs across the state boundary and find their child’s strong protections suddenly absent or reduced to very limited protections. Many state laws seem strong but have so many loopholes that they fail to protect students. A bill was introduced in February 2015 by Congressman Bobby Scott and Congressman Don Beyer in the U.S. House of Representatives. Virginia was the most recent state to adopt a law in March 2015.