Wisconsin’s New Law on the use of Seclusion and Restraint of School Children

After 12 years of advocacy, earlier this year, during perhaps the most contentious legislative session in Wisconsin history, that same acrimonious legislature unanimously passed an important bill to regulate and reduce the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint of school children.  This new law, 2011 Wis. Act 125, went into effect on September 1, 2012, after the Governor signed bill into law.  I was proud to have a private meeting with Gov. Walker prior to his signing the bill, and receive one of the pens he used to sign it.

As is true with almost every piece of legislation, the law involved some compromises in order to achieve passage.  Thus, it has many important protections and certain gaps.  This blog will explore those protections and gaps.

First, the important protections:

  • The new law applies to all children who attend Wisconsin public schools, as well as students who attend private schools or programs under contract with a public school district.  This includes charter schools.
  • All school employees, as well as those contracted by school districts, and student teachers, are covered by the law’s provisions.
  • Physical restraint includes any restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to freely move his or her head, body, arms, legs or head.
  • Seclusion means any involuntary confinement of a student, in a room or area from which she or he is prevented from leaving.  Thus, a door is not required to seclude a student.
  • Seclusion and restraint may only be used if the student’s behavior presents a clear, present, and imminent risk to the pupil or others.  These aversive techniques may only be used in a safe manner and for the shortest period of time until the imminent risk subsides.
  • Seclusion  and restraint may never be used for mere verbal disruptions.
  • Though the term prone restraints is not used, such restraints are clearly forbidden.
  • Chemical and mechanical restraints are forbidden unless authorized by a medical professional.
  • Restraints may only be used by trained staff, except in limited cases of unforeseen emergencies.
  • The first time seclusion or restraint is used on a student in special education, his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP) team must promptly meet to address the behavior in question with appropriate positive behavioral interventions and supports.  
  • An IEP may only contain seclusion and restraint provisions if a functional behavioral assessment has been done to provide positive behavioral supports for anticipated problematic behaviors.
  • Parents must be promptly notified of the use of seclusion and restraint on their child, and receive a thorough report.
  • School boards must receive an annual report on the instances of seclusion and restraint use in their school district by September 1st of each year.

Now for some of the gaps:

  • Students in private schools, including voucher schools, are not covered, unless they are placed their under contract with a school district.
  • Police officers in schools are not covered by the law.
  • There is no definition of “emergency” which can be invoked for untrained staff to restrain students.
  • There is no provision for the Wis. Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI) to certify training programs, or to limit the length of time for which a training qualifies school staff to restrain children.
  • The provision allowing seclusion and restraint in IEPs could result in overuse of these aversive techniques if parents are not well informed and good advocates for their children.
  • There is no requirement for school districts to report their seclusion and restraint use to the DPI, and thus no way for DPI to ensure that certain schools are not overusing these aversive techniques.

Despite these gaps, students have much more protection than prior to the passage of this law, and parents and educators have far more guidance of how to use and when NOT to use these aversive techniques.

You can find Systems Change Consulting’s full, Parent’s Guide to Wisconsin’s Law on the use of Seclusion and Restraint, on its web site:  www.systemschangeconsulting.com, by going to the publications tab.  That  guide also contains a link to the full statute.

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