Restraint and Seclusion in School

Florida Statute 1003.573 addresses widespread concern about the use of seclusion and restraint on students with disabilities in public school. The law went into effect on July 1, 2010.

The law establishes standards and procedures regarding the use, monitoring, documentation, and reporting of seclusion and restraint on students with disabilities.

The law establishes three important rights:

  • notification and copies of incident reports.
  • protection against mechanical restraint that restricts a student’s breathing.
  • protection against manual or physical restraint that restricts a student's breathing.

On July 1, 2011 the law was revised to improve monitoring, documentation and reporting. The law also now requires districts to develop plans for the prevention and reduction of restraint and seclusion use and produce those plans to the Department of Education no later than January 31, 2012.

What Can I Do?

Parents and guardians are entitled to notification so that they can learn about what is happening in school and take appropriate action.

The notification must be in writing and provided before the end of the school day on which the restraint or seclusion occurs. Reasonable efforts must also be taken to notify the parent or guardian by telephone or computer e-mail or both. These efforts must be documented. The school shall obtain and keep in its records, the parent's or guardian's signed acknowledgment that he or she was notified of his or her child's restraint or seclusion.

Schools must write incident reports and send them to parents and guardians, principals, district special education directors and the state special education bureau chief. 

The question often comes up - what can a parent do to help reduce restraint and seclusion use, prevent abusive restraint and seclusion use, and to respond to it when it occurs?

The TASH website is an excellent resource about how to write a No Consent Letter, how to monitor your child's program and some basic guidance about reporting abuse. Read each section of this Disability Topic to learn more about how to advocate for your child.

Abuse & Noncompliance

If you suspect abusive use of restraint or seclusion or non-compliance with Florida law governing use of restraint and seclusion in school, there are many ways to seek assistance.

Abuse Hotline - Department of Children and Families

  • To file a report by telephone call  1.800.96ABUSE   
  • To file a report online, go to this DCF website 

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 - Florida Department of Education

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. To read more about professional practices, visit this website.

IDEA State Complaint - Florida Department of Education

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 - U.S. Department of Education

To file a complaint, people may mail or fax a letter or use 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).

You may may file a complaint with OCR online at this web site.

Incident Report

Incident reports must contain the following: 

  1. The name, age, grade, race, ethnicity, gender and primary exceptionality of the student restrained or secluded. 
  2. The date and time of the event and the duration of the restraint or seclusion. 
  3. The location at which the restraint or seclusion occurred.
  4. A description of the type of restraint.
    1. Which Crisis Management Training Strategy?
    2. Whether seated, standing, rpone, supine, mechanical or in transport?
    3. If mechanical, the form of the mechanical restraint used must be described.
  5. The name of the person using or assisting in the restraint or seclusion of the student. 
  6. The name of any nonstudent who was present to witness the restraint or seclusion. 
  7. What was happening before
    1. Given an instruction
    2. Interacting with peers
    3. Presented work
    4. Given/serving a consequence
    5. Faced with unexpected change
    6. Transitioning to another activity
    7. Seeking attention
    8. Other
  8. What strategies were used to prevent and deescalate the behavior.
    1. Offered choices/preferred activities/breaks
    2. Praised/encouraged
    3. Verbally prompted/redirected
    4. Environment changed
    5. Visuually promoted/redirected
    6. Blocked behavior
    7. Provided reinforcers
    8. Other
  9. What behavior warrented the use of restraint or seclusion?
    1. Verbal threat/agression (NOTE - R/S should not be used for this reason - so if your incident report indicates this reason, that is a serious problem)
    2. Self-injurious behavior
    3. Physical aggression
    4. Unsafe behavior
    5. Running away
    6. Property destruction (NOTE - R/S should not be used for this reason unless there is also imminent risk of serious injury or death - so if your incident report indicates this reason, that is a serious problem)
    7. Other
  10. Who was at risk of immediate harm?
    1. The student
    2. Other students
    3. Adults
  11. How was it determined that there was imminent risk of serious injury or death to the student or others?
  12. What occurred with the student immediately after termination of the restraint or seclusion?
    1. Debriefing/problem solving
    2. Environment change
    3. Return to activity/situation
    4. Removal by parent
    5. Behavior escalated
    6. Removal by law enforcement
  13. Did the student or anyone else have injuries, visible marks, or medical emergencies that occurred during the restraint or seclusion. 

Prohibited

Illegal restraints are:

  • Mechanical restraint that restricts breathing
  • Manual or physical restraint that restricts breathing

Breath restriction risks are highest among people who have:

  • Obesity or are overweight
  • Respiratory problems
  • Asthma
  • Seizure disorders
  • Heart conditions
  • Required medications or drugs
  • Resistance to the restraint

Any weight placed on a person restrained prone or on their torso regardless of position is a risk factor for causing breath restriction during a restraint.

Illegal seclusions are:

Closing, locking or blocking a student in aroom that does not meet State Fire Marshal rules for seclusion time-out rooms and is unlit.

Definitions

According to the Florida Department of Education's interpretation of state and federal laws and rules, "restraint" is an emergency intervention sometimes used in schools when students are exhibiting disruptive or dangerous behavior. Restraint is not an instructional tool for the development of pro-social behavior. Rather, it is one method to prevent students from harming themselves or others. It should only be used in emergency situations when an imminent risk of serious injury or death to the student or others exists.

Section 1003.573, F.S., does not provide a definition for restraint but does require documenting, reporting, and monitoring of restraint with students with disabilities. The Department of Education has determined that all documenting, reporting, and monitoring requirements for restraint, discussed later in this TAP, shall be based upon the same definitions issued by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for reporting instances of restraint and seclusion for all students. For the purpose of this TAP and the documenting, reporting, and monitoring requirements for restraint, definitions are as follows:

Physical restraint

Physical restraint immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head freely. The term

When reporting the physical restraint, there is a requirement to document the type of restraint using terms in accordance with terminology defined by the Bureau. Those terms include seated, standing, prone (lying face down), supine (lying face up), immobilization during transport and mechanical restraint (see definition below).

physical restraint does not include a physical escort. "Physical escort" means a temporary touching or holding of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, or back for the purpose of inducing a student who is acting out to walk to a safe location.

Mechanical restraint

Mechanical restraint is the use of any device or equipment to restrict a student’s freedom of movement. The term does not include devices implemented by trained school personnel or devices used by a student that have been prescribed by an appropriate medical or related service professional and are used for the specific and approved purposes for which such devices were designed, such as:3

• Adaptive devices or mechanical supports used to achieve proper body position, balance, or alignment to allow greater freedom of mobility than would be possible without the use of such devices or mechanical supports

• Vehicle safety restraints when used as intended during the transport of a student in a moving vehicle

• Restraints for medical immobilization

• Orthopedically prescribed devices that permit a student to participate in activities without risk of harm

These definitions may also be found on the FDOE website at http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7674/urlt/0064544-restraintseclusion-parentbrochure.pdf.

Seclusion

Seclusion is an emergency intervention sometimes used in schools when students are exhibiting disruptive or dangerous behavior. Seclusion is not an instructional tool for the development of pro-social behavior. Rather, it is one method to prevent students from harming themselves or others. It should only be used in emergency situations when an imminent risk of serious injury or death to the student or others exists. 

Section 1003.573, F.S., does not provide a definition of seclusion. However, OCR now requires that the FDOE report all instances of seclusion and restraint for all students (not just those with disabilities). Documentation, reporting, and monitoring requirements for seclusion, discussed later in this TAP, are based on the definition issued by OCR with additional parameters described in section 1003.573, F.S. 

The OCR defines seclusion as “the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. It does not include a time-out, which is a behavior management technique that is part of an approved program, involves the monitored separation of the student in a non-locked setting, and is implemented for the purpose of calming.” This definition may also be found on the FDOE website at http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7674/urlt/0064544-restraintseclusion-parentbrochure.pdf.

Prevention & Reduction

School districts must write a plan for the reduction of restraint and seclusion. Those plans are due to the Department of Education by January 31, 2012.

The plans must particularly focus on settings in which restraint and seclusion is happening most frequently and with students who are restrained repeatedly and to reduce the use of the most dangerous practices - prone restraint and mechanical restraint.

Districts should plan and implement at least the following activities:

  • Additional training in positive behavioral support and crisis management
  • Parental involvement
  • Data review
  • Updates of students' functional behavioral analysis and positive behavior intervention plans
  • Additional student evlautions
  • Debriefing with staff
  • Use of schoolwide positive behavior support and
  • Changes to the school environment

Most restraint and seclusion van be 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

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. 

The Florida Positive Behavior Support Project (FPBSP) 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.

This Facilitator’s Guide was developed at FPBSP to build capacity in positive assessment based approaches to support students with significant behavioral challenges. It 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. It is derived from evidenced-based practices and provides an easy step by step process that can be implemented in the school, home, and/or community.