Restraint and Isolation of Students

Limitations on the Use of Restraint and Isolation in Washington State Public Schools

Restraint and Isolation: For use ONLY in an Emergency

Restraint and isolation are allowed only as emergency measures.

"Restraint" means physical intervention or force used to control a student, including the use of a restraint device to restrict a student's freedom of movement.

"Isolation" means restricting a student alone within a room or any other form of enclosure, from which the student may not leave.

Schools in Washington State are not allowed to use restraint or isolation as a form of discipline or punishment, or as a way to try to correct a child’s behavior. Restraint and isolation are only allowed as emergency measures, to be used if necessary to keep a student or others safe from serious harm. They can continue only as long as the emergency continues.

Restrictions on the use of restraint and isolation apply to all students, in all of Washington’s public schools, and in specialized schools that contract with school districts to serve students receiving special education services.

Follow up is required after every use of restraint or isolation.

Whenever restraint or isolation is used, schools must notify parents verbally and in writing. Schools must also debrief or review each incident with staff, students and families.  

Data is available on schools’ use of restraint and isolation.

School districts are required to collect and report data on the use of restraint and isolation. That data is posted on OSPI’s website, on the school safety section, here: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/health-safety/school-safety-center/z-index/restraint-and-isolation-data-reporting.

This data can be used to support efforts to reduce or eliminate the need for these extreme measures in schools.

The use of restraint and isolation carries risks to students and staff. It takes away valuable instructional time, can undermine the trust between students and teachers, and can lead to trauma, physical injury and even death. Given the risks associated with restraint and isolation, and the shared desire for school to be a safe place for everyone, it makes sense for schools and families to work together to reduce the need for these extreme measures whenever possible.

The FAQs below are intended to help you understand what the rules say about restraint and isolation in schools in Washington State, and to provide ideas and resources for problem-solving if a child is restrained or isolated.

These FAQs include information about laws and rules in public schools in Washington State. While they include information about the law, it is not legal advice and is not in any way intended to be a substitute for legal advice or representation. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer who can look at the specifics of a particular situation and apply the law. Also keep in mind that laws and rules change, and it is important to check for updates. This page was most recently updated October 2019.

We have included some citations to Washington state rules (“WACs”) and Washington state laws (“RCWs”). Both are available online, through www.leg.wa.gov.

A Note regarding “Parents”

School rules often refer to the rights of students and their “parents.” When education rules refer to a “parent or guardian” that includes someone acting as a parent, in the absence of a parent or guardian, like a family member providing kinship care, or a foster parent.

Restraint and Isolation FAQS

What can I do if my child is being restrained or isolated repeatedly?

Restraint and isolation are emergency measures, not educational interventions. The risks of restraint and isolation include emotional trauma, physical injury and death.

If restraint or isolation become a frequent occurrence at school, the benefits of school can be lost: during a restraint or isolation incident, a student is not receiving any instruction or educational benefit.

Data on incidents of restraint and isolation show that students with disabilities have been subjected to restraint and isolation at rates that far exceeded those of other students. As the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has explained, the cumulative impact of repeated isolation or restraints can result in a denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education. (See https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201612-504-restraint-seclusion-ps.pdf at p.16-17).

If your child has been experiencing repeated incidents of isolation or restraint, and your child has an IEP or a Section 504 plan, the IEP team or Section 504 team will need to work together to try to prevent further incidents.  If initial attempts to reduce the use of restraint or isolation are not successful, schools will need to continue working with the student and family to try something else. The district may need to seek additional help from specialists familiar with the child, the child’s disabilities, and with experts on reducing the need for restraints and isolation.

For a child eligible for special education, a parent may want to consider asking for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) if the district’s own evaluation does not seem to provide enough information or insight to support the team in addressing the child’s behavior. (For more information on IEEs, see OEO’s Parent Guide for Supporting Students with Disabilities).

If a child without disabilities has been subjected to repeated incidents of restraint or isolation, a parent might ask the school principal, together with district staff responsible for overseeing school safety matters to meet to review the incidents and develop a plan to prevent future incidents.

This can be difficult, emotional work. If you are working through these issues and would like to see if we can help, please call 1-866-297-2597 or submit an online intake at https://watech.service-now.com/oeo.

Should a child who has been restrained or isolated have a “Behavior Intervention Plan” (BIP)?

In most cases, likely yes, unless the use of restraint or isolation was an isolated event, unlikely to occur again. For a child with an IEP, a Section 504 plan, or with identified behavior challenges, a team can work together to develop a plan for positive behavioral interventions. The team can consider environmental factors that may be triggering challenging behaviors, and can identify and reinforce skills to support positive behaviors.   

A Functional Behavior Assessment (or FBA) and other evaluation may be needed to understand the underlying factors influencing the child’s behavior. If you think a behavior assessment or other evaluation is needed, it is helpful to make that request in writing. 

If an FBA has already been done, and the child already has a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), those should be reviewed to see if they are sufficient to understand the child’s behavior and to guide the adults working with the child.   

For a child with an IEP or a Section 504 plan, a parent can request a team meeting to discuss these issues.

For a child with an IEP, if the team decides to do an FBA, or to change parts of the IEP, including a Behavior Intervention Plan, the school district should follow up with the parent with a “Prior Written Notice” reflecting those decisions and the reasons for them. Check out our toolkit on Prior Written Notices, and our web page on Functional Behavior Assessments and Behavior Intervention Plans.

What is an “Emergency Response Protocol”?

An Emergency Response Protocol is a plan that can be developed for a student eligible for special education, if the district and parents agree that advance planning for possible emergencies is needed.

An Emergency Response Protocol could include information about the student’s health, medical or sensory needs, and any special precautions that would need to be taken if restraint or isolation were considered necessary.

 

In 2015, Washington state law changed to prohibit IEP and 504 teams from planning ahead to use restraint or isolation, unless a student's individual needs require more specific advanced educational planning and the student's parent or guardian agrees. Families and educators were concerned that allowing schools to plan on using restraint and isolation might increase the possibility of overuse.   

Currently, the law allows for advance planning for the use of these emergency measures only if a school district and a parent both agree that it is necessary.    

The district cannot require a parent to consent to an Emergency Response Protocol.

A parent’s refusal to sign or consent to an Emergency Response Protocol does not necessarily mean a child will not be restrained or isolated. A school could still use restraint or isolation, if necessary, in an emergency, to prevent an imminent likelihood of serious harm.

If a parent and a district do agree to develop an Emergency Response Protocol, the parent must give signed written consent for these protocols to be used. Even if the parent and district agree to an Emergency Response Protocol, the use of restraint or isolation is still only allowed when necessary to prevent an imminent likelihood of serious harm. Also, the school must still notify the parents of every incident of restraint or isolation within 24 hours (verbally) and within 5 business days (in writing). 

An Emergency Response Protocol cannot take the place of a positive Behavioral Intervention Plan.

Any student whose IEP includes an Emergency Response Protocol should also have a Behavioral Intervention Plan. The student’s IEP team should be actively working to reduce or eliminate any need for restraint or isolation. If restraint or isolation does occur, the team must take the follow up steps to review the incident and talk about how any further need for restraint or isolation could be prevented

See Question 13 for ideas on problem-solving when a student is repeatedly restrained or isolated.  

OSPI has developed a model Emergency Response Protocol form. You can find it on OSPI’s Model forms for Special Education page, here: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/special-education/program-review/model-forms-services-students-special-education.   

You can read more about strategies to address behavior, including functional behavior assessments and behavior intervention plans on OEO’s Functional Behavior Assessments and Behavior Intervention Plans page: https://oeo.wa.gov/en/education-issues/supports-students-disabilities/functional-behavioral-assessments-behavior.

Are schools required to collect or report data on how often they use restraint or isolation?

Yes. Each school district in Washington State is required to collect data on the use of restraint and isolation. They must summarize the written reports completed for each use of restraint or isolation and submit the summaries to OSPI each year.

For each school, the district must include:

  • the number of individual incidents of restraint and isolation,
  • the number of students involved in the incidents,
  • the number of injuries to students and staff, and
  • the types of restraint or isolation used.

OSPI is required to publish the data on its website.

OSPI may use this data to investigate the training, practices, and other efforts used by schools and districts to reduce the use of restraint and isolation.

You can find the data on OSPI’s website, here: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/health-safety/school-safety-center/z-index/restraint-and-isolation-data-reporting

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection also includes data regarding uses of restraint or isolation, and that data can be found at http://ocrdata.ed.gov/.  

Accurate, reliable data is a critical tool to support efforts to reduce or eliminate the need for and use of restraint and isolation in schools. With timely access to reliable data, school communities can identify needs and target proactive and preventative supports for students and staff.

How can I support my school district’s effort to reduce or eliminate the need for restraint and isolation?

With a committed effort, some schools and other institutions have substantially reduced their use of restraint and isolation, with benefits for both students and staff. For example, institutions that have reduced their use of restraint and isolation also saw reductions in staff injuries.

Successful efforts to reduce the need for restraint and isolation require the collaboration and commitment of many people. Take a look at these Six Core Strategies for Reducing Seclusion and Restraint Use from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, and consider how you might be able contribute to an effort in your area:

  1. Leadership toward Organizational Change, to set the vision and expectation that restraint and isolation use will be reduced;
  2. Use of Data to Inform Practice;
  3. Workforce Development, to develop best practices including trauma-informed care;
  4. Use of Restraint and Seclusion Prevention Tools, including individualized assessments and interventions;
  5. Full Inclusion of Families and Advocates, with notice and involvement in review of policies; and
  6. Debriefing, including a thorough analysis of every restraint and isolation event.

You can read more about these strategies at https://www.nasmhpd.org/sites/default/files/Consolidated%20Six%20Core%20Strategies%20Document.pdf.

The use of restraint and isolation carries risks to students and staff. It takes away valuable instructional time, undermines the trust between students and teachers that is so critical to support learning, and can lead to trauma, physical injury and even death. Given the risks associated with restraint and isolation, and the shared desire to have school be a safe place for everyone, it makes sense for schools and families to work together to reduce the need for these extreme measures whenever possible.