The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in California Schools
Posted in harmful policy on July 15, 2016
Disciplinary tactics involving restraints and seclusion are shockingly far from unusual in today’s
school system. According to a recent study by ProPublica, these practices are completely legal
under federal law, with no limits or regulations regarding how schools can use them.
From pinning children face down on the floor to tying them up with duct tape, federal law does
not prohibit any form of restraint or seclusion as a means of dealing with uncooperative children.
Between 1992 and 2012, 20 children died from injuries sustained in these practices. Help put an
end to the violence by learning more about California’s public school restraint and seclusion
Can Schools Pin Children Down in California?
Yes, schools can pin children down in California. California ranked as one of the lowest in
ProPublica’s nationwide scoring of where states stand on regulation or oversight of
restraint/seclusion practices. Georgia ranked first, with a high score of 12. Georgia law limits
restraints to emergencies only and completely bans seclusion – the only state in America to do
California, on the other hand, received a low score of 1. California’s only regulation regarding
restraints is that the school notify parents of disabled children in the event of restraint. Other than
that, schools can restrain and seclude students whenever and however they wish. To many
parents’ surprise, California regulations do not even prohibit restraints that restrict breathing. The
state also has failed to prohibit mechanical restraints in schools.
Common Restraint and Seclusion Injuries
Reports of child restraint and seclusion in schools include mechanically restraining children to a
bed, locking children in a room by themselves for extended periods, tying up children with
bungee cords, and so on. Restraint and seclusion can cause psychological and emotional damage
and can escalate a child’s agitation to the point of self-harm or harm to others.
Researchers connect restraint with sudden death and injuries such as positional asphyxiation.
Positional asphyxia is an insufficient intake of oxygen due to restraining the body in a position
that makes it difficult to breathe. When the blood doesn’t receive enough oxygen to meet the
body’s needs, it results in a disturbed heart rhythm and eventually death. Restraining an agitated
individual increases his or her need for oxygen, heightening the risk of injury or death.
Studies connect sudden death with physical restraint in a syndrome called agitated delirium. This
is a condition of extreme mental and physical excitement. In these cases, cardiac arrhythmia is
the most likely the cause of death. Disabled children are especially at risk of sudden death during
restraint, as they will more likely be in a state of agitated delirium. Schools that do not restrict
restraint and seclusion to emergencies put every child at risk of positional and restraint
asphyxiation and sudden death.
Research shows that restraint and seclusion can be harmful to a child’s cognitive and emotional
development. These tactics are not effective in reducing challenging behaviors; rather, they
create feelings of isolation and fear. Many children who were restrained or shut in “scream
rooms” at school suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional traumas. Positive
alternatives exist, but until federal law prohibits restraint and seclusion, schools have no reason
to change these practices.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Child
Schools have a legal duty of care to protect students from harm. When they breach this duty, the
student’s family can file a claim for school district negligence. Panish Shea & Boyle, LLP,
specialize in California school district negligence cases. As our main area of practice, we have
the most knowledge and experience handling school-related injuries and wrongful death. If you
need expert help with your child’s injury case, get in touch with us at (877) 800-1700.