Skip to main content

Let's Talk Human Rights

Our Summer Researching the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in Ohio Schools

By Emily Mosca '21 and Carly Hube '21

Restraint and seclusion practices are not typically discussed in conversation about school, but discussions regarding these practices must take place to ensure the right of students to safety in schools. The US Department of Education defines restraint as “a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head freely” and seclusion as “the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving”. School psychologists are ideal candidates to ensure that restraint and seclusion practices are being used in ethical and safe ways within their district.

The Use of Restraint and Seclusion by School Psychologists
Emily Mosca '21

I spent last summer interviewing school psychologists about restraint and seclusion practices in their districts. We believed that school psychologists would be ideal to interview because they regularly deal with behavior problems, on individual and district wide levels. They are also qualified to recognize developmental issues within the district, and create a plan to address them. I questioned school psychologists about their involvement in and opinions on their district’s restraint and seclusion policies. 

Most school districts in Dayton and Columbus, report very low numbers of restraint and seclusion. When I talked to school psychologists in districts with low numbers, they reported that their involvement with restraint and seclusion was similarly little. They said that the district would review situations where restraint and seclusion were used on a case-by-case basis. With such low numbers, a case-by-case review is the most logical. I then asked the school psychologists whether their district was prepared if these numbers increased. Many responded that they did not feel their district would be ready for increased numbers of restraint and seclusion instances, or how to review larger amounts of this data. It is important to conduct reviews of the data so that schools can be sure they are only using these practices when absolutely necessary. Many school psychologists in these districts also stated that they wanted to see more mandatory training on restraint and seclusion practices for their staff. That way, if restraint and seclusion needed to be used, staff would understand how to perform the procedures in a legal and safe manner.

Looking more closely, there are a small number of districts in Dayton and Columbus, Ohio that report high numbers of use of restraint and seclusion. Many school psychologists from these districts said that they are more involved with these practices. However, even with the high numbers, many of these districts did not internally review their data. Many of these districts still looked at restraint and seclusion instances on a case-by-case basis. While it is important to look at these cases individually after they occur, it is equally important to look at this high volume of data as a whole to make sure procedures are being used in a safe and appropriate manner. The school psychologists interviewed agreed that there should be a more formal analysis of this data; an annual review could consist of  a committee of people that look over the cases for the past year to analyze restraint and seclusion data.

My summer research allowed me to look at the reality of restraint and seclusion practices in Dayton and Columbus; this research has brought the lack of review of data and trends on this critical issue to the attention of school psychologists in these areas. These educational professionals are qualified to change the procedures within the district, and will hopefully make changes to protect their students regarding restraint and seclusion. 

Using Positive Behavior Supports to Minimize the Use of Restraint and Seclusion
Carly Hube '21

The use of restraint and seclusion in schools has sparked much debate amongst educational stakeholders. Restraint and seclusion are strategies that can be implemented when students’ behavior poses an imminent danger to themselves or those around them. While restraint and seclusion strategies can be momentarily effective in de-escalating a student’s behavior, when used incorrectly, they can lead to physical or emotional trauma, and in some cases death. Due to the serious consequences that have arisen from the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, many states, including Ohio, have policies and regulations surrounding their usage. However, there is no federal law to date that mandates the regulation of restraint and seclusion in the schools. 

As Emily and I learned more about restraint and seclusion, a topic that continues to arise is how schools are utilizing positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) to minimize the use of restraint and seclusion. PBIS is a way for educators to promote good behavior amongst students by teaching them strategies to identify and manage their inappropriate behaviors. The main focus of PBIS is to be preventative and not punitive. Ohio educators and policy makers have also seen the importance of using PBIS to minimize the use of restraint and seclusion; Ohio school districts are required to put PBIS in place. Components that must be included are trained staff that can identify under what conditions inappropriate behavior may occur, preventative assessments, preventative behavioral interventions that teach appropriate behavior, and a system that will encourage students to manage their own behavior by teaching explicit self-managing techniques.

When PBIS is implemented effectively, the likelihood of dangerous behavioral situations with students decreases dramatically. Practices that act proactively and comprehensively maximize instruction time, create a positive school culture, and maintain a safe and respectful educational environment. Maximizing instructional time is an essential component to consider when realizing the consequences of restraint and seclusion because when a student is in a restraint or secluded from their peers, he or she is no longer learning . Educators need to be equipped with strategies to de-escalate and manage behaviors in a non-invasive way. 

My research over the summer helped me to understand the importance of PBIS being utilized in the school system. My next steps will be to see if there is a clear relationship between schools implementing PBIS effectively and their rates of using restraint and seclusion. My work on this project will continue throughout the 2019-2020 academic year.  

To conduct this research, Emily and Carly were recipients of the Graduate/Law Summer Fellows grants from the Human Rights Center. Applications are open for summer 2020; apply here.

Emily Mosca and Carly Hube are graduate students in the School of Psychology looking to graduate in 2021.


Previous Post

Is it ethical to show Holocaust images?

Dr. Paul Morrow, a scholar of mass atrocity, reflects on the use of Holocaust imagery; To engage thoughtfully with reports of atrocities happening today, one must look at photos of past crimes.
Read More
Next Post

In the News | Six Months On: Gun Violence Forum

On February 4, University of Dayton students and faculty, local community members and gun violence experts came together in remembrance of the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. The event memorialized victims of gun violence and brought together city officials and activists to engage in conversation on ending this human rights issue.
Read More