It’s Time to Start Showing a Little Restraint: In Search of a Compromise on Federal Seclusion and Restraint Legislation

In 2009, the United States House of Representatives heard testimony that hundreds of students had been injured in schools by teachers secluding or physically restraining them. Congress had never legislated on seclusion and restraint, but the alarming allegations of student injuries and deaths prompted many parents to demand a ban on the use of the techniques in schools. In the continuing debate, school officials have protested that seclusion and restraint are important tools for teachers to protect their classrooms from out-of-control students. Torn between these two extreme positions, Congress has twice attempted — but failed — to pass federal legislation regulating seclusion and restraint. This Note examines the most recent failed legislative attempts and proposes a more moderate statute that has a greater likelihood of passing through a polarized Congress. By banning certain forms of restraint, raising safety standards for seclusion spaces, and broadening grant authority to help schools develop alternatives to seclusion and restraint, this Note’s proposed statute would protect both student safety and teacher autonomy.