Physical restraint

Right on schedule, the New York State Education Department has proposed “clarifying” and adding limits on how and when students can be physically restrained or placed in seclusion in school settings, the Albany Times Union reports. Earlier in the year, the department convened an internal working group to examine possible regulatory changes and planned to present the proposed amendments in Spring 2023.

RELATED: Times-Union Investigation Spurs NYS Bill Limiting Physical Restraints by Schools

The changes are in response to a Times Union investigation — and the paper’s subsequent reporting — that revealed a high number of instances in which physical restraints and “timeout” rooms have been used on school children, especially as applied to elementary students and students with disabilities (highlight mine). Case in point, the Times Union just posted (April 20) a report on an autistic Saratoga County teen being restrained and hurt.

How NY Got Here

Back in February 1985 (info/dates are from the NYS Education Department) the New York State Board of Regents banned corporal punishment in public schools while permitting school employees to use reasonable force to protect themselves, other students and school property, as well as to restrain or remove a disruptive student. So, it left the gate wide open.

By July of that year, the New York State Education Department had begun collecting reported incidents of complaints regarding the use of corporal punishment from school districts and boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES).

RELATED: New Bills Introduced to Address Corporal Punishment in New York Schools

In 2007 the Board of Regents adopted amendments that generally prohibited the use of “aversive” interventions (“intended to induce pain or discomfort to a student for the purpose of eliminating or reducing maladaptive behaviors”).

In 2012, the U.S. Office of Special Education (OSE) issued a field memorandum concerning guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) entitled Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document. New York State concluded that its regulations and guidance were consistent with the federal guidance and that all schools “should review their policies and procedures to ensure they were consistent with federal and State standards.”

RELATED: FYI, Oklahoma Says ‘Yes’ to Hitting Kids With Disabilities in Schools

This brings us to August 2022, when Gov. Kathy Hochul amended the Education Law to address a new (well, newly discussed) issue: Parent notification. The law was amended to require boards of education or trustees of each school district to notify the parents of students on the same day that a physical or mechanical restraint is used on the student or the student is placed in a timeout room.

By December 2022, the Times Union had begun its excellent reporting on the issue (its original investigative piece was posted Fall 2022). It also noted many violations of the Commissioner’s regulations for reporting, safety, documentation, length of time spent in seclusion, and communication with parents.

Not surprisingly, the Education Department informed the field of the requirements and encouraged school districts to review their policies, procedures and practices.

In March 2023, the USDE issued a Dear Colleague Letter urging Governors, Chief State School Officers, and School District and School Leaders to end corporal punishment in schools.

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