Restraint is schools is governed by Georgia Compiled Rules & Regulations rule 160-5-1-.35. Note that this rule applies to all students, not just those students with IEPs or 504 Plans.
The Georgia rule on restraint divides interventions into several categories:
(1) Chemical restraint – any medication to restrict movement that is not prescribed by the student’s doctor.
(2) Mechanical restraint – essential the dictionary definition of restraint, covering a physical object that restricts movement and cannot be easily removed by the student. Therapeutic devices recommended by a doctor or therapist are excluded from the definition, as are seatbelts.
(3) Physical restraint – physical contact from an adult to restrict a student’s movement. Prone restraint is specifically defined, and involves putting a student face down on a floor or surface and using force to keep the student prone.
(4) Seclusion – putting a student in a separate area and physically preventing the student from leaving, such as locking the door.
(5) Time out – any time a student is removed from the learning environment but not confined.
Chemical restraint, mechanical restraint, prone restraint, and seclusion are prohibited by the rule. Physical restraint is allowed only when the student is an immediate danger to himself or others and no less intense intervention is working. It must stop when the student is no longer a danger. Additionally, physical restraint cannot be used as school discipline, when unsafe to do so, or when medically inappropriate.
Ignoring compliance issues, that seems like a reasonable policy, but there are several ways that a school district can wiggle out of the prohibition. Most reasonably, the rule does not cover actions taken by police or medical personnel (such as EMTs), even if the school called the police or the ambulance. But the rule explicitly allows school district employees to take “appropriate” action when (a) dealing with a fight or (b) protecting other students and staff. A teacher is cannot be liable in a lawsuit for money if the teacher is preventing imminent harm or bodily injury.
Those exceptions practically swallow the rule because the only time a school employee should be considering use of force is when the problem behavior is severe. Although the rule provides protection when the student’s behavior does not affect other students, most times a student’s behavior rises to the level that restraint should be considered, the behavior risks harming other people at the school. Expect a school district to emphasize dangers to others whenever a teacher or school official uses restraint on your child because that conclusion gives the district the best justification for what restraint teachers used.
There are many things a parent can do to address concerns about restraint. First, you have a right to be informed within a reasonable time, preferably within one school day. During that conversation, ask school officials what less intense interventions and de-escalation techniques are being used. School officials are required to start with less severe interventions if possible, and school employees should be able to explain why lesser methods did not work and what could be done to make them work in the future.
Additionally, school districts are required to have a written policy on use of physical restraint. Get a copy and read it, then think about whether you believe it was followed with your child. The written policy also must describe training on restraint provided to teachers and explain how use of restraint is documented. If those provisions were not followed, you should talk with people at your child’s school to encourage them to follow the rules in the future.
These rules on restraint are not just rights that protect your child. The rules are also the Georgia Department of Education’s considered opinion of what works well to deal with a student’s extreme behavior while minimizing physical and emotional harm to the student and improving the student’s future behavior and academic outcomes.
I will be speaking at the Reach Enrichment Center’s monthly meeting on Saturday, August 3 at 10:00 am.
Additionally, I will be speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting on Thursday, October 3 at 6:30 pm.
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