An empty classroom
Restraint and seclusion (R/S) are reactionary crisis or emergency responses. School personnel should only use R/S in extreme situations like when a student exhibits dangerous behaviors towards self or others, when a risk of serious and imminent physical harm or injury is evident. Never use R/S as a planned part of a behavior support plan, as a therapeutic intervention, or as a consequence for behavior.

What Is Seclusion?

The Office of Civil Rights defines seclusion as: “the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. It does not include a timeout, which is a behavior management technique that is part of an approved program, involves the monitored separation of the student in a non-locked setting, and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”

What Is Restraint?

The Office of Civil Rights defines physical 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. The term physical restraint does not include a physical escort. Physical escort means a temporary touching or holding of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder or back for the purpose of inducing a student who is acting out to walk to a safe location.” Other forms of restraint, such as mechanical or chemical, should never be used in schools.

Why Work to Prevent Seclusion and Restraint?

Preventing restraint and seclusion incidents is critical to the work schools do to support students.

Restraint and seclusion strategies can negatively impact all stakeholders regardless of the strategy used. R/S may lead to loss of learning time or even more serious, sometimes fatal, injuries to students. A review of available internet reports from 1993-2003 found 45 child and adolescent deaths related to restraints, with 25 due to asphyxia.[1]

Further, using R/S has financial consequences for schools. These practices increase work costs for organizations and individuals related to staff injury and potential litigation.[2]  Between the potential effect on the individuals and the school, the sole use of R/S as a response to negative behaviors is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Restraint and Seclusion Process

Prevention of R/S is the ultimate goal, however, there are crisis or emergency instances in which R/S might occur. If R/S is used, there are processes to consider during, reporting, and after.

During a Restraint/Seclusion:

In a situation where imminent physical harm is likely to occur, the first consideration is the safety of all and de-escalation of the crisis situation. This may lead to the use of R/S to maintain safety and prevent serious injury.

Reporting a Restraint/Seclusion

Once R/S occurs, school personnel document and report it to the family, district, and state following district and state policies. Documentation should include information on the following:

  • Specific procedure used
  • Time of day, duration, and location of the event
  • Detailed account of the events that occurred before, during, and after use of a restraint or seclusion procedure.

After a Restraint/Seclusion:  

After the use of R/S, schools follow a process to debrief the incident and plan for prevention. The goal of this debriefing process is to make informed adjustments to prevent future crises. It is important to remember that the occurrence of any crisis situation requiring the use of R/S should be viewed as a prevention failure.

On-going Monitoring

Teams should regularly review the use of restraint or seclusion to ensure school personnel use these crisis procedures in accordance with district and state procedures. Teams review data surrounding documented incidents to understand whether prevention or reducing behavioral crises at each level has been successful.


Prevention for R/S is vital in reducing the use of these exclusionary and reactive practices. One prevention strategy is to create a district-wide approach to promote evidence-based alternatives and professional development to train school personnel. Another prevention strategy is to improve PBIS practices at the school-level. Research has found PBIS to be effective at supporting interventions to reduce problematic behaviors that may lead to R/S responses. PBIS has also reduced R/S in some case studies.[3]

Preventing Restraint and Seclusion within a Tiered Framework

Every student and educator has the right to a safe, respectful, constructive learning environment – especially students at risk for developing or who have histories of challenging behavior. Prevention is the key to how we:

  • Arrange and operate our schools and classrooms
  • Develop interventions to support students with a history of challenging behavior
  • Respond after a crisis so all students and educators will be more successful the next time

The US Department of Education recommends providing on-going professional development on the use of effective alternatives to restraint and seclusion, such as PBIS. There are prevention strategies at every tier.

Tier 1

Tier 1 preventive behavior intervention practices are critical to support all students. Prevention of R/S within PBIS includes:

  • Positive expectations for all students
  • Explicitly teaching social and emotional skills,
  • Providing positive, specific feedback
  • Reinforcing accomplishments  

Implementation of Tier 1 PBIS for all students embeds intentional de-escalation strategies, and embraces a supported prevention policy.

Tier 2

Prevention based strategies at Tier 2 involve small group interventions which:  

  • Teach students appropriate, desired behaviors using social skills instruction when applicable
  • Teach students a replacement skill which results in similar desired outcomes
  • Teach and reinforce de-escalation and self-regulation strategies
  • Make necessary prevention-based adjustments to the classroom and school environment to set students up for behavioral success

Tier 3

When crisis or emergency situations occur R/S should be implemented independent of comprehensive, function‐based behavioral intervention plans. Behavior is a form of communication and all behavior serves a function – to get something (like attention or an activity) or avoid something (like escape an unpleasant or undesired situation).

When focusing on prevention of R/S at the Tier 3 level, schools may take their lead from the foundational elements of Tier 3 implementation and use function-based perspectives. Individualized de-escalation strategies should be known and used to ensure the safety of all involved.

Assessing Seclusion and Restraint - Data

Schools, districts, and states assessing restraint and seclusion incidents should look for patterns in the data. This requires a system allowing R/S data to be

  • Duration
  • Location
  • Time of day
  • Disability status
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Reason/behavior

With data are disaggregated, districts and schools can assess whether the use of R/S stems from lack of prevention or a need for more targeted Tier 3 supports. The importance of reporting, collecting and analyzing disaggregated R/S data is to assess and identify potential problems to determine solutions spanning every tier.

Get to Know Local Policies Governing Restraint and Seclusion

Due to the seriousness of restraint and seclusion practices, there are state and federal policy recommendations. It is best to check with your state on the specific policies or laws regarding R/S.  


Preventing Restraint and Seclusion in Schools

This practice brief defines the concepts associated with restraint and seclusion and provides guidance on how to prevent their use in schools.

Restraint and Seclusion Resource Document

This document describes what constitutes a crisis response of R/S and highlights the importance of prevention-based strategies and interventions.

Dear Colleague Letter: Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities

A letter from the Office of Civil Rights describing the limits imposed on the use of restraint and seclusion by public elementary and secondary school districts.

[1]Nunno, M., Holden, M., & Tollar, A. (2006). Learning from tragedy: A survey of child and adolescent restraint fatalities. Child Abuse & Neglect, 30(12), 1333-1342. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2006.02.015
[2]Chan, J., LeBel, J., Webber, L. (2012). The dollars and sense of restraints and seclusion. Journal of Law and Medicine,20(1), 73-81.
[3]Fogt, J. B., & Peripavel, C. M. D. (2002). Positive school-wide interventions for eliminating physical restraint and exclusion. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 10, 227–232.

See More/Less


Resources in this section include assessments, blueprints, examples, and materials to aid in implementing PBIS.


Publications listed below include every eBook, monograph, brief, and guide written by the PBIS Technical Assistance Center.


Presentations about their experiences, published research, and best practices from recent sessions, webinars, and trainings


Recordings here include keynotes and presentations about PBIS concepts as well tips for implementation.