Massachusetts lags behind most states in limiting the use of physical restraints and seclusion on children in public schools, according to a study of federal data by ProPublica.
Massachusetts does not comply with several of the US Department of Education’s six non-mandatory recommendations on restraint and seclusion. The state scored a 2 on ProPublica’s 12-point scale for compliance with measures designed to limit the use of restraints on children.
Restraining and secluding students for any reason remains perfectly legal under federal law. And despite a near-consensus that the tactics should be used rarely, new data suggests some schools still routinely rely on them to control children.
The practices—which have included pinning uncooperative children facedown on the floor, locking them in dark closets and tying them up with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape—were used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year, a ProPublica analysis of new federal data shows. Three-quarters of the students restrained had physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities.
According to ProPublica, Massachusetts ranks 30th in compliance with the recommendations:
-The state does not limit restraints to emergency situations (if included in the student’s individual education plan).
-The state does not limit child seclusion to emergencies.
-The state does not ban restraints that restrict breathing.
-the state does not ban mechanical restraints, like straps, handcuffs and bungee cords.
UPDATE: Elizabeth Cooper, spokesperson for Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone, confirmed to Boston.com that the department is working to update the state’s restraint and seclusion policies. In a June 5 letter to Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and Early Education and Care Commissioner Thomas Weber, Malone asked that both offices complete a review of restraint and seclusion practices by September.
l believe there is an urgent need to review and revise your respective departments’ regulations and policies on restraint and seclusion. I fully expect that you and your departments will continue a full review of those regulations and policies, working with relevant stakeholders, including the [Disability Law Center], in that process. Please have your departments produce drafts of amended regulations on restraint and seclusion by September 2014, to be presented to and considered by your respective boards at that time.
Both departments had previously planned to review the regulations during the 2014-2015 school year, according to the letter.Scalese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BertoScalese.