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The Use of Restraint and Seclusion Techniques in Schools

Abuse & Neglect, Accessibility, Education

By: Emma Freeburg, DRAZ Legal Intern (Summer 2021)*

Today’s blog post examines another type of informal school discipline – restraint and seclusion. Schools are more likely to restrain or seclude students with disabilities than those without. [1] This blog post provides important information about Arizona law and the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

What are restraint and seclusion?

Restraint and seclusion are techniques that schools use to intervene when students engage in behavior that may harm themselves or others.

Under Arizona law, restraint means “any method that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a pupil to move the pupil’s torso, arms, legs or head freely, including physical force or mechanical devices.” [2] These methods can include an adult staff member physically holding a student, the use of a mechanical device like wrist straps, or the use of medication or drugs to chemically control a student’s behavior.

Seclusion means “the involuntary confinement of a pupil alone in a room from which egress is prevented.” [3] Seclusion is not the same as the use of voluntary management techniques, like a timeout location, as part of a student’s education plan, individual safety plan, behavioral plan, or IEP that involves the student’s separation from a larger group for the purposes of calming.

When can schools use restraint and seclusion?

 A school can use restraint or seclusion on a student when both of these are true:

  • The student’s behavior presents an imminent danger of bodily harm to the student or others, and
  • Less restrictive interventions appear insufficient to reduce the imminent danger of bodily harm. [4]

In other words, restraint and seclusion must be limited to when the student’s behavior is so extreme that it will likely result in them physically hurting themselves or others. Restraint or seclusion techniques cannot be used as a punishment for past behavior, to manage non-dangerous behaviors such as shouting or refusing to follow directions, or once the danger has passed. For example, if the student already threw an object at or punched someone, but is not trying to do so anymore, then restraint or seclusion would not be an appropriate response.

What guidelines must schools follow when using these techniques?

Even when the circumstances are appropriate for the use of restraint or seclusion, schools must follow these guidelines:

  • Keep constant eyes on the student while the technique is being used;
  • End the technique as soon as the student’s behavior no longer presents an imminent danger;
  • Permit only trained personnel to use techniques;
  • Ensure the restraint technique cannot impede the student’s ability to breathe; and
  • Use a proportionate response based on student’s age/condition. [5]

Must schools report incidents of restraint and seclusion to the child’s parents?

Yes. After the school uses either a restraint or a seclusion technique on a student, it must follow these reporting and documentation procedures:

  • Notify the student’s parent/guardian within 24 hours of the incident;
  • Provide the student’s parent/guardian with certain details about the incident within a reasonable time following the incident; and
  • If there has been repeated used of restraint or seclusion techniques on a student, the school must review the strategies used to address the student’s problematic behavior. [6]

To learn about options to address the improper use of restraints and seclusions, check out tomorrow’s blog post.

[1] See OCR, 2017-2018 Civil Rights Data Collection: The Use of Restraint and Seclusion on Children with Disabilities in K-12,

[2] A.R.S. § 15-105 (G)(1).

[3] A.R.S. § 15-105 (G)(3)

[4] A.R.S. § 15-105 (A)

[5] A.R.S. § 15-105 (B)

[6] A.R.S. § 15-105 (D)

*Emma Freeburg is a law student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Emma completed a legal internship with DRAZ during the summer of 2021. This blog post has been reviewed by DRAZ Legal Director Rose Daly-Rooney and DRAZ Education Team Managing Attorney Amanda Glass.

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