Law Office of Michelle Ball discipline,restraint Restraint And Seclusion Not To Be Used As School Punishment

Restraint And Seclusion Not To Be Used As School Punishment


Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

In California public schools, “Hands off!” should be the motto for school staff.  There are so many minefields involving interaction between staff and students that this is the best policy.  One issue which may come up with an unruly child, or a student who the staff cannot handle competently, is the use of restraint and seclusion- e.g. staff putting hands on a child to stop their movement or control them.  This subject is much broader than a single blog, but one basic for parents to know is that school staff cannot impose restraints or seclusion as punishment, for any child.
In 2019, significant legislation went into effect (see California Education Codes 49005-49006.4) about restraints, seclusion, when these things are appropriate/not appropriate and what is allowed.  For now, the one basic I want to impart to parents is the fact that restraint and seclusion cannot be used just because staff feel like it (e.g. because Joe mouthed off) and are reserved only for situations in which a serious danger is present.
A pupil has the right to be free from the use of seclusion and behavioral restraints of any form imposed as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience, or retaliation by staff. This right includes, but is not limited to, the right to be free from the use of a drug administered to the pupil in order to control the pupil’s behavior or to restrict the pupil’s freedom of movement, if that drug is not a standard treatment for the pupil’s medical or psychiatric condition.” [emphasis added]
Restraints or seclusion (within certain limits) are NOT prohibited in emergency situations or when there is a “clear and present danger of serious physical harm to the pupil or others that cannot be immediately prevented by a response that is less restrictive.” [Ed §49005.4]
Additionally, a police or security guard’s action to protect public safety, a timeout that is part of a school program in a non-locked setting, an escort where a student is being touched on their arm, etc. for direction, and possibly other actions depending on the circumstances, are not included in the prohibition.
Yet, if your son or daughter is mouthing off and is taken to the ground when they are not a physical threat, that restraint would not be appropriate.  Locking a student in a room when they have not acted in a dangerous manner would also be prohibited.
Some parents reading this may believe these things don’t happen at schools.  Unfortunately they would be wrong.  Children are manhandled and treated improperly on a daily basis in California schools.  It is up to parents to take notice, complain, and address inappropriate restraint and isolation, using the law as their weapon, to defeat such harmful practices.