Seclusion, Isolation, and Restraint
The use of seclusion and restraint has gotten national media attention recently because students have been hurt or killed in the process. Federal law does not put restrictions on the seclusion, isolation, or restraint of students. Missouri Department of Education (DESE) has created a model seclusion, isolation, and restraint policy, but each individual district is allowed to create its own policy. Definitions and policies for seclusion, isolation, and restraint need to be set in state law requiring school districts to adopt and enforce strong policies that protect students and teachers.
Rep. Ian Mackey and Rep. Dottie Bailey have pre-filed legislation to strengthen MO laws related to seclusion, isolation, and restraint. They filed identical bills: HB119 & HB387. We will be advocating for this legislation during the 2021 legislative session.
What are seclusion, isolation, and restraint?
Currently, school districts are allowed to create their own definitions for seclusion, isolation, and restraint. Here are definitions from DESE's model policy:
Isolation – The confinement of a student alone in an enclosed space without locking hardware.
Physical Restraint – The use of person-to-person physical contact to restrict the free movement of all or a portion of a student’s body. It does not include briefly holding a student without undue force for instructional or other purposes, briefly holding a student to calm the student, taking a student’s hand to transport him or her for safety purposes, physical escort, or intervening in a fight.
Seclusion – The confinement of a student alone in an enclosed space from which the student is physically prevented from leaving by locking hardware.
Time-Out – Brief removal from sources of reinforcement within instructional contexts that does not meet the definition of seclusion or isolation.
When can seclusion and isolation be used?
DESE's model policy puts limits on when seclusion and isolation can be used. Most school districts have adopted similar policies.
Seclusion as defined in this section is prohibited except for an emergency situation while awaiting the arrival of law enforcement personnel as provided for in RSMo 160.263.
Isolation may only be used:
o After de-escalating procedures have failed.
o In an emergency situation as defined in this section.
o With parental approval, as specified in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 plan, or behavior intervention plan.
Isolation shall never be used as a form of punishment or for the convenience of school personnel.
Following an emergency situation involving the use of seclusion, isolation or restraint the parent or guardian of the student shall be notified through verbal or electronic means of the incident as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the day of the incident. DESE's model policy requires the district to give the parent or guardian a written report of the emergency situation within five days.
In the Media
Seclusion has gained attention in the national media. published a 2019 study about seclusion and restraint in America's schools. "Over 20 years ago, the Hartford Courant documented 142 deaths of people with disabilities from restraint and seclusion, the first major restraint and seclusion investigative series." Currently thirty states have laws providing meaningful protections against restraint and seclusion for all children, but Missouri is not one of these. We have one of the weakest seclusion and restraint laws in the country.
On November 19, 2019, ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune published The Quiet Rooms, an eyeopening story about seclusion in Illinois. The following day Illinois' governor issued an emergency rule prohibiting seclusion in schools throughout the state. "School districts sent letters to parents saying they would no longer put children in locked rooms, while the head of the Illinois State Board of Education apologized to families and said the law that had been in effect 'did not sufficiently regulate' isolated timeout, causing 'lasting trauma.' (ProPublica Illinois)
MoDE hopes to see a strong law regarding seclusion in Missouri schools get passed in 2021.
Why is it important that policies and definitions regarding seclusion and restraint be set in state law?
It is not enough for DESE to have model Seclusion, Isolation, and Restraint policy if school districts don't have to adopt it. Seclusion and restraint are traumatic and there are risks involved with using them; they should be used in the rarest of occasions. Strong policies protect teachers and students. State law needs to set boundaries. It needs to define what constitutes seclusion and restraint and what needs to happen when these practices are used.
A state law would have prevented the following situation from happening and it will protect it from happening again.
MoDE's Advocates Locally
In May 2019, we requested that Columbia Public Schools strengthen the parental reporting piece of policy JGGA: Seclusion, Isolation, and Restraint. Parents would only receive the incident report regarding their student's seclusion, isolation, or restraint if requested. There was also no policy stating what had to be in the report. We asked that they update their policy to match DESE's model policy which requires parents receive a report in five days and it lists what must be in the report.
CPS decided to strengthen this part of the policy. In Sept. 2019, they proposed an update to parental notification part of the policy, as well as other changes to the entire policy recommended by Missouri School Board Association (MSBA). We looked over this and saw a significant concern. The policy changed the definition of seclusion by adding one word.
Seclusion – The confinement of a student alone in an unattended enclosed space from which the student is physically prevented from leaving by locking hardware.
The word unattended drastically changes the definition of seclusion. We had a two-fold concern.
1. Seclusion is only to be used when a student is a physical threat to himself or others. No student who is a physical threat should be left unattended. Never.
2. According to this definition, if a student is locked in a room and being watched by someone outside the door, then the child is not being secluded. It would be considered time-out. Time-out can be used as a regular form of discipline and doesn't require parental notification.
We shared our concerns with Columbia Public School Board. They agreed that the new language was concerning and voted against the proposed policy. We reached out to MSBA who created the language for this concerning definition. They refused to change the language, citing §160.261, RSMo. We pointed out that this statute doesn't define seclusion and that they used the word unattended out of context. They still refused to change the suggested policy.
In Oct. 2019, we were notified by a concerned parent that Moberly Public School Board was proposing the same change to the definition of seclusion as CPS had proposed. We reached out to Moberly board members. Both CPS and MPS agreed that the language was concerning and have removed the word unattended from the definition of seclusion.
We appreciate the school districts' willingness to change the language but are concerned that other districts have already passed this language. We need a state law which defines seclusion, isolation, and restraint and creates strict policies related to these actions.