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Seclusion in Schools

Written by Dr. Isabel Warner
Published on January 10, 2024
Research Highlights

Where reporting data is available, seclusion is most often used on students with disabilities.

Seclusion is dangerous and expensive for students, teachers, and staff, exacerbates behavioral issues, and is detrimental to learning.

States that have banned seclusion have not seen a rise in the use of restraint and have reported increased teacher satisfaction and retention.

Seclusion use varies and data is incomplete.

In Missouri, seclusion, also known as solitary or involuntary confinement, is the “involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area that the student is physically prevented from leaving” (DESE, 2022). Seclusion does not have adults or peers present and prevents students from accessing bathrooms or water, unlike time-out, in-school suspension, or detention.

, seclusion is primarily practiced on disabled students. In the 2020-2021 academic year, students with disabilities constituted 18% of students and 76% of seclusion events (Office for Civil Rights, 2021). While MO state law does not require demographic information to be collected, federal data from 2021 indicates that of 619 seclusion events in MO, 62% were disabled students (Office for Civil Rights, 2021). However, this number is likely a significant underreporting.

In MO, there were more than 8,300 seclusion events in the 2022-2023 school year and more than 2,600 seclusion events in 2023-2024 school year (ongoing at the time of this report) (DESE, 2023). The use of seclusion varies widely across districts (DESE, 2023). Of the approximately 558 districts in MO, about 40% used seclusion and restraint in the 2022-2023 school year, while 166 (30%) have reported seclusion and restraint events so far in the 2023-2024 school year (DESE, 2022; ). Seclusion data records “events” of seclusion, which do not differentiate between a single student secluded multiple times or several students secluded once. Most districts (67%) secluded less than 1/100 students (<1% rate), 30% of districts secluded up to 1 in 20 students (1%-5%), and one district secluded at a rate of more than 1 out of every 2 students (58% of students).

Seclusion is traumatic and dangerous for both students and school staff.

Involuntary confinement is a behavioral intervention tactic intended to remove the student from a potentially dangerous situation where they may harm peers, staff, or themselves (DESE, 2022). Behavioral interventions are meant to teach students to regulate their emotions and change behavior, however research indicates that children in a heightened emotional state are not capable of learning (Corrigan, et al., 2010). Seclusion does not address the underlying cause of the behavior, which is often an unmet need, nor teach students health stress management strategies (Nordstrom, 2022; SAHMSA, 2014) (Figure 1).

While rare, children have seriously injured or killed themselves in seclusion, even in relatively short periods of time (Nunno, et al., 2021). Even when students do not self-harm, they become further dysregulated and can suffer lasting trauma, often increasing the behavioral issues for which they were originally secluded (Natta, et al. 1990).

Teachers and staff are also at risk of becoming traumatized and injured by seclusion practices, which can in turn increase their hypervigilance and use of seclusion as a preemptive measure (Brophy, et al., 2016; Beattie, et al., 2018). MO does not collect data for injuries that teachers and staff sustain while secluding or restraining students (DESE, 2023). In contrast, schools that have banned seclusion have reported increased staff satisfaction, reduced staff turnover, and significantly lower operating costs, including workers’ compensation policy costs and litigation (Bon and Zirkel, 2014; Craig and Sanders, 2018).

States that ban seclusion do not see increases in incidents of restraint and have better teacher and cost outcomes.

Seclusion and restraint has been banned in multiple states and school districts as a result of investigations by the Department of Justice and journalistic investigations (DOJ, 2023, Illinois Board of Education, 2022). At present, FL, GA, HI, IL, MD, NV, PA, TX have severely curtailed or banned seclusion outright.

These states have not experienced an increase in the use of restraint as an alternative to seclusion (Maryland State Department of Education, 2023). Instead, they report increased teacher satisfaction and retention. Individual districts that have banned seclusion have also reported lowered operating costs with one district estimating that a switch to trauma-informed behavioral intervention techniques has saved them $16 million from 2005-2018 (Craig and Sanders, 2018).

Figure 1: The cycle of trauma, behavior, and seclusion.

The vicious cycle of seclusion, trauma for staff and students, and increased incidents of behavior leading to seclusion events.

 

References:

Beattie, J., et al. (2018). Workplace violence perpetrated by clients of health care: A need for safety and trauma-informed care. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 28(1-2): 116-124. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jocn.14683

Bon, S.C., and Zirkel, P.A. (2014). Time-Out and Seclusion Litigation: A Liability Nightmare? University of Toledo Law Review. 45(3): 505-526.

Brophy, L.M., et al. (2016). Consumers and their supporters’ perspectives on poor practice and the use of seclusion and restraint in mental health settings: Results from Australian focus groups. International Journal of Mental Health Systems. 10(1): 1-10. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s13033-016-0038-x

Corrigan, F.M., et al. (2010). Autonomic Dysregulation and the Window of Tolerance Model of the Effects of Complex Emotional Trauma. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 25(1). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0269881109354930

Craig, J.H., and Sanders, K.L. (2018). Evaluation of a Program Model for Minimizing Restraint and Seclusion. Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders. V2: 334-352. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41252-018-0076-2

Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE). (2022). Frequently Asked Questions About Seclusion and Restraint. https://dese.mo.gov/media/pdf/frequently-asked-questions-about-seclusion-and-restraint-2022

Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE). (2022). Seclusion and Restraint Aggregate Data. https://apps.dese.mo.gov/MCDS/FileDownloadWebHandler.ashx?filename=7f59177d-480eSeclusion_and_Restraint_Aggregate%202022-23.pdf

Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE). (2023). Seclusion and Restraint Aggregate Data. https://apps.dese.mo.gov/MCDS/FileDownloadWebHandler.ashx?filename=de5e4a22-aa96341125c4-ec9bSeclusion_and_Restraint_Aggregate.pdf

Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE). (2023). School Directory. https://dese.mo.gov/directory

Department of Justice (DOJ). (2023). About DOJ’s Efforts to Combat Improper Seclusion. https://www.justice.gov/crt/about-doj-s-efforts-combat-improper-seclusion

Illinois State Board of Education. (2022). Permanent Regulations for the Use of Isolated Time-Out, Time Out, and Physical Restraint. Revised Guidance and Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.isbe.net/Documents/Guidance-FAQs-Time-out-Restraint.pdf

Maryland State Department of Education. (2023). Physical Restraint and Seclusion: Data Collection, Findings, and Considerations. https://dlslibrary.state.md.us/publications/Exec/MSDE/ED7-1104(d)(1)(iv)_2023(rev).pdf

Natta, M.B., et al. (1990). Sequences of Staff-Child Interactions on a Psychiatric Inpatient Unit. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 18(1): 1-14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1691219/

Nordstrom, W.E. (2022). From Exclusion and Punishment to Collaborative Problem Solving in School Disciplinary Systems. Johns Hopkins University Library. http://jhir.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/66985

Nunno, M.A., et al. (2021). A 26-Year Study of Restraint Fatalities Among Children and Adolescents in the United States: A Failure of Organizational Structures and Processes. Child & Youth Care Forum. https://rccp.cornell.edu/downloads/2021_Article_Restraint%20Fatalities.pdf

Office for Civil Rights, US Department of Education. (2014). Civil Rights Data Collection Data Snapshot: School Discipline. Issue brief no. 1. https://civilrightsdata.ed.gov/assets/downloads/2011-12_CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf

Office for Civil Rights, US Department of Education. (2018). Civil Rights Data Collection: The Use of Restraint and Seclusion on Children with Disabilities in K-12 Schools. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/restraint-and-seclusion.pdf

Office for Civil Rights, US Department of Education. (2021). Summary: National Data. https://civilrightsdata.ed.gov/profile/us?surveyYear=2020

Office for Civil Rights, US Department of Education. (2021). State Summary: Missouri. https://civilrightsdata.ed.gov/profile/us/mo?surveyYear=2020

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAHMSA). (2014). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioural Health Services. Treatment Improvement Protocol.

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