What do we know about the use of restraint and seclusion in schools?

October 27, 2020

2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection: The Use of Restraint and Seclusion on Children with Disabilities in K-12 Schools. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights released a detailed survey on the use of restraint and seclusion in K-12 schools to address the possible inappropriate use of thee procedures.  The survey was in part a response to a previous GAO report that flagged the significant absence or reliable data collection on the use of these procedures (Nowicki, J. 2020).  This survey also makes available detailed school district and school level data at ocrdata.ed.gov

The survey also provides the following summary of the use of physical restraint, seclusion and mechanical restraint.  Under the CRDC, physical restraint is a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head freely. Mechanical restraint is the use of any device or equipment to restrict a student’s freedom of movement. Seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. 

Students with disabilities make up 13% of the total student enrollment in U.S. schools. They account for 80% of students subjected to physical restraint, 41% to mechanical restraints, and 77% to seclusion. The following figure examines use of these procedures within the special needs population of students by ethnicity.

OCR Restraint Graph.png

Forty-eight percent of students with disabilities are white.  They account for 52% of the students subjected to physical restraint, 33% to mechanical restraints, and 60% to seclusion.  Black students are 1.3 times more likely to experience physical restraints and 2.8 times more likely to experience mechanical restraints than white students.

Eighteen percent of students with disabilities are Black.  They account for 26% of the students subjected to physical restraint, 34% to mechanical restraints, and 22% to seclusion. 

Twenty-seven percent of students with disabilities are Hispanic.  They account for 14% of the students subjected to physical restraint, 28% to mechanical restraints, and 9% to seclusion.  It appears that Hispanic students experience these procedures at lower rates than Whit and Black students.This survey suggests somewhat widespread use of these procedures and possible inequity in their application.  Much more analysis needs to be completed to answer these critical questions fully. 

Citation(s): Nowicki, J. (2020). K-12 Education: Education Needs to Address Significant Quality Issues with Its Restraint and Seclusion Data. Report to Congressional Committees. GAO-20-345. US Government Accountability Office.

2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection: The Use of Restraint and Seclusion on Children with Disabilities in K-12 Schools,U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, October 2020 

Link: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/restraint-and-seclusion.pdf