The Use of Restraints and Seclusion in California Schools

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 | Ravipudi 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.