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Understanding the dangers of seclusion and restraints in special education

The use of seclusion and restraint in schools for disciplinary and safety reasons is a difficult issue, especially in regards to severely disabled children. Part of the problem is that there is very little statutory or regulatory authority regarding what is permissible and what tools are available to educators in emergency situations. In fact, neither federal law nor the law of New Jersey contains guidance on this important issue.

Obviously, extreme instances of seclusion or restraint are not tolerated in any school in the United States. However, there are many seemingly innocuous practices that do occur regularly in schools and can be significantly detrimental if misused, especially to children with disabilities:

  • “Time out”
  • Grabbing a child’s hand or otherwise physically restrictive movement
  • Use of a harness the child is not able to operate

Many states have enacted strict regulatory requirements governing the use of restraints or seclusion with children who have disabilities. These can include requirements that permitted use of restraints are documented in a child’s individualized education program (IEP) or that the child’s parents are specifically informed of every instance when restraint is used. Unfortunately, New Jersey has not yet enacted any such laws or regulations. Although the Office of Special Education Programs ostensibly plans to draft policies on the subject, nothing has been forthcoming as of yet.

Despite the lack of regulatory action, parents in New Jersey still maintain broad rights to oversee the education of their children. If you are concerned about the use of restraints or seclusion regarding your child with special needs, a NJ special education attorney can help you work with school officials to address and alleviate your concerns.