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ALABAMA: Restraint used "thousands of times in one year" on disabled students

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

June 14, 2023, What do we know about seclusion and restraint in Alabama schools? See the data
Alabama schools reported students being physically restrained by school employees thousands of times -- just in one year.
The most recent data is old, from the 2017-18 school year, but it is the most recent data currently available. Nine out of 10 times, physical restraints were used against children with disabilities.

For years, has requested more recent reports of restraint and seclusion. School districts are supposed to file them each year with the state Department of Education. The department has not yet provided those records to journalists.

Physically restraining a child at school is supposed to be a method of last resort according to training documents posted on the Alabama Department of Education website. Experts spoke with said if a school official has to physically restrain a child, it’s evidence of a systemic failure to address a child’s behavioral problems.

Tell a reporter: Is there something we should know about seclusion, restraint or school discipline in Alabama?

Perhaps even more troubling is that Alabama schools put children in seclusion - isolating them in a locked room - nearly 600 times in 2017-18. Seclusion was prohibited in Alabama in a 2011 rule enacted by the state board of education.

There is no federal law regarding restraint and seclusion in schools, leaving states responsible….

The Alabama Board of Education adopted rules in 2011 prohibiting seclusion and limiting restraint to being used only in certain forms and when a child is a danger to themselves or others….

During the 2017-18 school year, physical restraint:

Was used in 321 of Alabama’s 1360 schools,

Was used to restrain 916 students,

Was used a total of 2,254 times.

Of those 916 students, 778, or 85%, were students with disabilities.

Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program Assistant Director Nancy Anderson told restraint should only be used in an emergency, such as when a child darts toward a busy street.

A single incidence of restraint should trigger a review of the type of behavioral support the child is given. If a child is restrained more than one time, Anderson said, school and district officials probably haven’t addressed the behavior that caused the problem.

“When a restraint occurs,” Anderson said, “I think of it as a failure. Not of a teacher, not of a child, but of the system, of the support that’s been put in place. And let’s go in and figure out what’s wrong there. What can we do differently to make it better?”

Only teachers and staff who are trained and certified in how to properly physically restrain a student are allowed to do so. Training must be done in whichever restraint approach a school district adopts.

Prone physical restraint - restraining a child in a face-down position on a flat surface - is prohibited under all circumstances. And any restraint that restricts air flow to a child’s airways is also prohibited….

One school, Pelham Oaks in Pelham City Schools, reported using physical restraints 204 times on a total of seven children with disabilities. The school reported using physical restraint once on a child without disabilities….

Seclusion, isolation in Alabama schools

Seclusion, the practice of isolating a child in a location where the child cannot get out, like in a locked closet or classroom, is prohibited in Alabama.

Yet 263 students among 46 schools were placed in seclusion 599 times during the 2017-18 school year according to data reported by schools to federal education officials. Two-thirds of children placed in seclusion had disabilities.

Seclusion is not the same as in-school suspension or time out. Time out is allowed, as long as children are in an unlocked area that is lighted and has appropriate air flow and temperature controls. An adult must be able to see the child and be within reasonable proximity in case the child needs assistance….

It’s not clear whether schools accurately and consistently report restraint and seclusion. A 2020 report U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2020 found “significant quality issues” with that data….

The federal government requires schools to report incidents of seclusion and restraint as part of the biennial Civil Rights Data Collection.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in 2019 launched a national effort to educate school officials on alternatives to and proper reporting of restraint and seclusion practice.


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