Written By: Gianni Jackson, Student Policy Associate
While not commonly spoken of, restraint is a far-reaching issue that affects hundreds of thousands of students nationally. Restraint can cause severe physical and psychological harm, leading the practice to be reserved for emergencies typically. However, several districts have used restraints for minor misbehavior despite the Department of Education’s clear statement that restraint has not been proven to provide any educational or therapeutic benefit to a child. Nevertheless, it is difficult to fully understand how many students have been affected because hundreds of thousands of districts nationally do not publicly publish related data.
The Civil Rights Data Collection, housed within the United States Department of Education, lists two primary methods of restraint: mechanical and physical. Mechanical restraint involves using equipment or a device to restrict a student’s ability to move, like zip ties and handcuffs. Physical restraint involves at least one person physically reducing a student’s ability to move freely (U.S. Department of Education). Each is extremely dangerous, especially when students are restrained on their stomachs in a prone position, which can limit their ability to breathe.
The danger of restraint calls for careful practices and significant accountability that it is only used on an emergency basis. However, schools across the country tend to underreport the number of students restrained, with some districts even falsely reporting zeros to the United States Department of Education despite multiple occurrences.
Inaccurate data holds several ramifications, primarily for students with disabilities who are disproportionately subjected to the practice. However, without clear data, it becomes very difficult to substantiate the claim the United States Department of Education warned against – that restraints can be used to discriminate against students with disabilities. The Department of Education maintained students with disabilities constitute 12% of the student population in public schools but 75% of students are physically restrained at school. However, inaccurate data suggests the number is a fraction of the true count.
Students’ families are also heavily affected by inaccurate reporting. Parents may never be told when their child has been restrained, only discovering the incident through the bruises on their arms and legs. Moreover, without access to the number of restraints, it can be difficult for families who change schools and districts to factor restraint practices into their consideration.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education published guidance that asks public schools to report their use of restraint and restraint data every other year, which is not required by law. The most recent school year that this data was collected and published publicly was the 2017-18 school year, preventing individuals from accessing several critical data periods.
Various news and media publications have served as a vital source of information, detailing the issue of underreporting and the harm of districts failing to report restraint data. Carly Sitrin’s article, published for Politico in June 2022, held a remarked impact that rippled across the state. After revealing that New Jersey does not collect or publicly publish statewide restraint data from schools, the state’s legislature passed a vital amendment. Just five months later, restraint and seclusion data collection and reporting became mandatory. The law went into effect in the 2022-2023 school year (“Mandatory restraint and seclusion data…” ).
No Kids in Cuffs would help translate the guidance of the Department of Education to law. The bill requires school districts to publish their data every two years publicly. Specifically, the type of restraints used, a description of what led to the use of the restraint, the professional title, if any, of each individual who imposed the restraint, and the demographic information of each student who was restrained would be included. The comprehensive report would demonstrate when restraints were used to discriminate against students with disabilities, providing the evidence needed to protect the safety and well-being of the children. Moreover, public data would help to illuminate when a district uses restraints excessively, pointing to areas where additional resources or guidance may needed to support students and faculty best.
Mandatory restraint and seclusion data collection/student safety data … (2022, December 14). https://www.nj.gov/education/broadcasts/2022/dec/14/MandatoryRestraintandSeclusionDataCollectionStudentSafetyDataSystemOpening.pdf
Sitrin, C. (2022, June 1). New Jersey doesn’t provide data on how many students are restrained, secluded in school. POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/news/2022/06/01/new-jersey-data-students-restrained-secluded-school-00035482
U.S. Department of Education. (2020, October). 2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection – U.S. Department of Education. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/restraint-and-seclusion.pdf
U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Students with disabilities and use of rs. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/20190725-students-with-disabilities-and-use-of-rs.pdf