Restraint-Seclusion Policies

How many states reference SWPBS in their restraint-seclusion policies?

Claudia G. Vincent

Appreciation is extended to Megan Cave for editing and publishing assistance.

Vincent, C. (2010). How many states reference SWPBS in their restraint-seclusion policies? Evaluation brief. Educational and Community Supports,University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.

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Use of disciplinary practices that involve restraint or seclusion of students is an emotionally laden issue. Parents of children with disabilities report abuse of students by school staff who appear insufficiently trained to address behavioral problems (COPAA, 2009). In the wake of parents’ concerns about abusive discipline practices, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed a number of cases of restraint or seclusion leading to injury or death of a child (GAO, 2009). Although these cases are few in number, their severity is alarming. In response to these findings professional associations have proposed new guidelines (e.g. CCBD, 2009a, 2009b) and state departments of education have been encouraged to review regulations associated with seclusion and restraint to prevent injury and death of students.

Ryan, Robbins, Peterson, & Rozalski (2009) surveyed states’ Department of Education websites and followed up with telephone calls and emails to state education agencies to identify existing restraint and seclusion regulations. They found that 22 states had policies and 9 states had guidelines regarding the use of restraint and seclusion. Of the remaining states, 17 had no statewide regulations in place and no information could be located for 2 states. These findings coincided with the overview of existing statewide restraint and seclusion legislation compiled by the GAO (2009, Appendix I). Their “Summary of State Laws Related to the Use of Restraints and Seclusions in Public and Private Schools” also identified 31 states as having statewide legislation governing the use of restraint and seclusion. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education produced a more comprehensive summary of states’ seclusion and restraint legislation, policy, and guidelines, and also found that 31 states had existing legislation, while 19 did not. Of those 19 states, the majority were engaged in deliberations about needed changes to their existing legislation or development of new legislation concerning the use of restraint and seclusion in school settings.

Based on their review of existing statewide restraint and seclusion legislation Ryan et al (2009) identified a number of commonalities across states. Restraint and seclusion procedures tended to be (a) acknowledged as potential discipline measures for all students, not only students with disabilities, (b) reserved for emergency situations, (c) considered an appropriate response to school property damage, (d) deemedpermissible only if staff were adequately trained, and (e) accompanied by procedural provisions, e.g. parental notification and documentation. Based on these findings,as well as outcomes of earlier studies (Rozalski, Yell & Boreson, 2006; Ryan, Peterson & Rozalski, 2007), Ryan et al recommended that restraint and seclusion be used only in conjunction with rigorous staff training in appropriate use of these measures, thorough documentation and periodic administrative review of the data.

Given the current focus on regulating restraint and seclusion, our intent was to assess the extent to which states include school-wide positive behavior support (SWPBS) in their legislation regulating the use of restraint and seclusion.


We examined the Summary of Seclusion and Restraint Statutes, Regulations, Policies and Guidance, by State and Territory: Information as Reported to the Regional Comprehensive Centers and Gathered from Other Sources compiled in 2010 by the US Department of

Education. This summary represents information furnished by US states in response to a letter from the Secretary of Education to the Chief State School Officers. In his letter, the Secretary references the 2009 GAO findings, encourages states to review and potentially adapt their legislation to prevent abusivediscipline practices, presents SWPBS as a preventative approach to limit extreme behavioral problems, and asks states to provide a summary of their existing legislation as well as plans for changes to the regional Comprehensive Centers, who will then compile the information into a comprehensive report to be posted in the public domain. States had the opportunity to review and revise information after it was compiled.

We first reviewed the information furnished by each state to assess the current state of state-wide restraint and seclusion policy. Second, we searched the entire document for references to SWPBS by typing “positive” into the find function of the pdf file. Only references to “(school-wide) positivebehavior(al) support” were counted as hits. Our search was limited to the pdf file only; any links provided in the pdf file were not searched. The table below summarizes the results for the 50 US States and the District of Columbia; US territories were omitted.



Current state-wide restraint/ seclusion legislation

References to SWPBS


Under discussion

Proposed policy emphasizes SWPBS


Under discussion; survey being conducted to assess use of restraint and seclusion

Survey references SWPBS as potential means to reduce need for R/S




Seclusion policy for special education students only No restraint policy in place


Guidance and procedures for emergency situations

Training in SWPBS is offered to address assaultive and violent behaviors


Restraint legislation in place

Restraint to be used only after alternatives, including SWPBS, havefailed Schools are encouraged to use SWPBS to reduce need for restraint


Restraints and seclusion legislation in place

Seclusion to be used only after alternatives, including SWPBS, havefailed


Legislation allows use of reasonable and necessary force to protect pupil from harming self and others

State District of Columbia

Current state-wide restraint/ seclusion legislation Rules on seclusion and restraint proposed

References to SWPBS Implementation of SWPBS encouraged; pilot initiative in progress


Standards for the use of reasonable force under development

State-wide SWPBS effort exists, training is on-going


Rule on restraint and seclusion under development


Use of restraint included in existing legislation



Consultation in SWPBS available to districts


Legislation includes specificrequirements for use of isolated time out and physical restraint

Use of SWPBS to prevent restraint and seclusion


None Schools written discipline rules contain guidance on use of restraint and seclusion


Corporal Punishment legislation

Training in alternative strategies including SWPBS, required


Guidelines exist

Professional development in SWPBS available



KY Center on Instructional Discipline provides training in SWPBS




Legislation exists


Legislation defines requirements for use of restraint and seclusion

Training in SWPBS provided to prevent need for restraint and seclusion


Legislation addresses physical restraint laws and guidelines


Legislation exists

Districts are required to implement SWPBS


Statute forbids corporal punishment

SWPBS scale-up model in place


Restraint policy exists



Schools are implementing SWPBS


Legislation exists



SIG provides training in SWPBS


Legislation exists

Training in restraint must include training on SWPBS

New Hampshire


Use of SWPBS is encouraged

New Jersey


State New Mexico

Current state-wide restraint/ seclusion legislation Legislation for students with disabilities

References to SWPBS Training emphasizes SWPBS to be used prior to restraint

New York

Legislation exists

Use of SWPBS is encouraged in conjunction with appropriate restraint training.

North Carolina

Legislation exists

Use of SWPBS in conjunction with appropriate use of seclusion and restraint is encouraged

North Dakota

Legislation exists for students with developmental disabilities


Restraint legislation exists



State Personnel Development Grant provides training in SWPBS to schools


Legislation exists

Implementation of SWPBS isencouraged; SWPBS encourages reduction of bullying behaviors


Legislation exists

Training in SWPBS encouraged for staff authorized to use restraint

Rhode Island

Legislation exists

Restraint should be used only after PBS specified in BIP has failed

South Carolina


South Dakota



Legislation exists

Special Education Isolation andRestraint Modernization and Positive Behavioral Supports Act encourages training in SWPBS


Legislation exists

Time-out should be used only in conjunction with SWPBS and must bespecified on IEP Professional development is SWPBS available


Legislation exists

Personnel development in SWPBS available



SWPBS initiative exists


Legislation exists


Legislation exists

SWPBS must be used prior to aversive interventions

West Virginia

Legislation exists for Pre-K settings only

Use of SWPBS is encouraged






Overall, it appears that our findings of currently existing state-wide restraint and seclusion legislation largely mirror those of Ryan et al (2009). Of the states who had no existing legislation, a number were engaged in various phases of legislation development. Of the states who had existing legislation, the scope of this legislation varied from applying to the general student population to students with disabilities only to specific age groups.

Of the 36 states that either had existing legislation or were in the process of developing it, 25 referenced SWPBS; of the 15 states who did not have existing legislation, 7 referenced SWPBS. In general, references to SWPBS were somewhat generic and rarely provided specifics about what elements of SWPBS were used to address which challenges students, teachers, and administrators involved in restrictive disciplinary measures face. It appears that SWPBS was largely seen as an approach to preventing behaviors that might lead to restraint and seclusion. Training in SWPBS was delivered through existing state-wide initiatives, State­wide Improvement Grants, or State-wide Professional Development Grants.


It is important to interpret our results in light of a number of limitations. First, the information provided by states varied greatly in the amount of detail given. For example, while Maryland provided 22 pages of detailed information on its legislative definitions of disciplinary practices and technical assistance provisions, Minnesota provided one page of links to statutes, rules, and codes, and South Dakota provided 8 lines of text and 2 links stating its existing policy. Because we did not extend our search to links provided in the pdf file, we might have missed relevant information.

Second, a number of states referenced SWPBS in the context of developing behavioral intervention plans for students who have an IEP. The consideration of positive behavioral support strategies for students with a disability is mandated under IDEA 2007, represents federal legislation, and therefore does not reflect statewide restraint and seclusion legislation. Third, given that the Secretary of Education referenced SWPBS as a preventative approach to behavior problems in his letter soliciting the information reviewed for this brief, and given states’ generic references to SWPBS as such a preventative approach, one has to wonder if states’ references to SWPBS could partially represent a direct response to the Secretary’s letter rather than a firm commitment to utilizing specific components of SWPBS to prevent behaviors leading to restraint or seclusion and manage students when they engage in severe and potentially harmful behaviors.


Council for Children with Behavior Disorders (CCBD). (2009a). CCBD’s position summary on the use of physical restraint procedures in school settings.Behavioral Disorders, 34, 223-234.

Council for Children with Behavior Disorders (CCBD). (2009b). CCBD’s position on the use of seclusion procedures in school settings. Arlington, VA: Author.

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (2009). Unsafe in the schoolhouse: Abuse of children with disabilities. Towson, MD: Author.

Government Accountability Office (2009). Seclusions and restraints: Selected cases of death and abuse at public and private schools and treatment centers. Washington, DC: Author.

Rozalski, M., Yell, M., & Boreson, L. (2006). Using seclusion timeout and physical restraint, an analysis of state policy, research, and the law. Journal of Special Education Leadership, 19(2), 13-29.

Ryan, J.B., Robbins, K., Peterson, R.L., & Rozalski, M. (2009). Review of state policies concerning the use of physical restraint procedures in schools. Education and Treatment of Children, 32(3), 487-504.

Ryan, J.B., Peterson, R.L., & Rozalski, M. (2007). Review of state policies concerning the use of timeout in schools. Education and Treatment of Children, 30(3), 215-239.

U.S. Department of Education (2010). Summary of Seclusion and Restraint Statutes, Regulations, Policies and Guidance, by State and Territory: Information as Reported to the Regional Comprehensive Centers and Gathered from Other Sources, Washington, D.C.: Author.