Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools

April 18, 2019

On March 21, the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) held a public hearing on proposed regulations governing the Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools. This occurred as several, high-profile uses of the practice were reported in the media. The Board heard from parents, students, and education associations on the use of these practices and the potential impact to school and student safety of the proposed regulations. Though these proposals mainly impact local school board policies, potential impact to localities exists in the form of additional staff training and physical building requirements.

Generally, physical restraint refers to restricting the student’s ability to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head. Seclusion refers to involuntarily confining a student alone in room or area from which he or she cannot physically leave. The Federal government recommends using these practices only in situations when a student poses a physical threat to themselves or others. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, nationally, 122,000 students (approximately 0.2 percent of all students enrolled) were physically restrained or subjected to seclusion in the 2015-2016 school year.

VBOE is authorized in code to provide guidelines and model policies to local school boards for codes of student conduct and regulation. VBOE’s Student Policy Guidelines provide for the criteria under which students may be removed from class, disciplined, and standards for the training of school personnel in the appropriate management of student conduct. Enacted legislation from the 2015 General Assembly required VBOE to adopt regulations on the use of seclusion and restraint. If adopted, these regulations will apply to all 1,286,000 students in the Commonwealth’s K-12 public schools and 132 local school divisions.

According to initial cost and benefit analysis provided by the Department of Planning and Budget, the proposed regulations have the potential to improve staff and student outcomes resulting from disciplinary action to preserve school safety by providing further guidance on appropriate use of seclusion and restraint, methods to reduce frequency of usage, and ways to improve parent and state engagement. The primary costs with the proposed regulation are associated with the training requirements. VDOE has estimated that the average training program lasts three days and the estimated direct cost for training statewide would be $14.7 million. The language also governs the standards of use and physical features of rooms used for seclusion or restraint.

The Virginia Department of Education is currently accepting public comment via the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website. Following the public comment period, the proposed regulations will be reviewed the Offices of the Governor and the Attorney General.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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