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Disabled students more likely to be restrained or secluded at school

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Administrators in American public schools are much more likely to use restraint and seclusion in response to behavior problems in disabled students than in non-disabled students, says a new brief by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

The nationwide study was announced on Dec. 17, 2013, and was published online as “Variation in rates of restraint and seclusion among students with a disability.”

Restraint involves using mechanical or physical means to restrict a student’s ability to move. Seclusion involves the involuntary isolation of a student, usually for a few minutes. Researchers used data based on the 2009 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates and the 2009-2010 Civil Rights Data Collection.

“Schools today are tasked with implementing positive techniques that can effectively manage the difficult and sometimes violent behaviors of the most challenging students with a disability, which might lead some schools to more extreme measures,” researchers said.


  • School districts had 2.6 cases of restraint per 100 disabled students, while there were only 0.1 instances per 100 non-disabled students
  • the number of cases of seclusion were similar to the restraint statistics
  • The use of restraint and seclusion varied greatly
  • Most school districts did not use restraint and seclusion to handle student behavioral problems
  • Seclusion and restraint occurrences were higher in more affluent school districts
  • 59.3 percent of school districts reported that disabled students were not restrained
  • 82 percent of school districts reported no instances of seclusion
  • A small number of school districts reported dramatically high rates of using restraint and seclusion
  • School districts with large Hispanic or black populations or with poverty had lower rates of seclusion and restraint
  • The average rates of seclusion and restraint in school districts were twice as high as the rates in poor, low diversity districts

“If certain disability types elicit more frequent restraint and seclusion, and the frequency of such disabilities differs by school type, this may help explain why rates differ across school poverty and racial composition,” researchers said.



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