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Controversy around CT's new restraint and seclusion law

posted Sep 29, 2015, 8:51 AM by Diane Willcutts   [ updated Oct 3, 2015, 11:27 AM ]
I was ecstatic when PA 15-141, Connecticut's new restraint and seclusion law, was passed a few months ago.  The new law limits the use of restraint and seclusion to emergency situations only.  Whereas the previous law also permitted the use of seclusion to be part of the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) as a planned intervention.  

So what's controversial?

The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) is saying that the law doesn't mean what it says and has provided guidance to districts stating that they can continue to use seclusion as part of the IEP for a child with disabilities.  

This is in stark contrast to guidance provided by the Office of the Child Advocate and the Office of Protection and Advocacy, which states that schools can no longer use seclusion as a planned intervention but must limit its use to emergency situations.  

The CSDE's guidance also contradicts the legal interpretation of one of the largest Connecticut law firms representing school districts, Shipman & Goodman, who notified districts last June that they were no longer going to be permitted to use seclusion as part of the IEP.

So why is seclusion a bad thing?  Don't students sometimes need a quiet place to calm down?

Sure, many students can benefit from going to a quiet space.  But seclusion rooms (also known as "scream rooms") are not the average quiet space.  

Seclusion is defined in PA 15-141 as "involuntary confinement," and this usually involves a locked door or an adult blocking the student from exiting a space.  Too many students have been traumatized by being placed in scream rooms, some have been injured, some have urinated/defecated on themselves, some have ended up being restrained when they negatively reacted to staff putting hands on them to "escort" them to the scream room, etc.   

How often are scream rooms used?

According to the the CSDE's Annual Report on the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in Connecticut, 2013-2014, there were 12,350 emergency seclusions, resulting in 46 injuries.  423 of emergency seclusions lasted more than 60 minutes.  

There were 5,439 non-emergency seclusions (conducted as part of a planned intervention in the IEP), resulting in 32 injuries.  89 of the non-emergency seclusions lasted more than 60 minutes.

Why would anyone place a child in seclusion in a non-emergency situation?

Really, it makes no sense.  The State Department of Education says that seclusion should be placed in the IEP only after other positive, less restrictive interventions have been tried and failed.  But there is no research supporting that seclusion changes behavior.  Further, many school districts do not exhaust efforts to positively address the underlying causes of the behavior before putting seclusion in the IEP.  I have had students come to me who had seclusion in their IEPs, even though they had never been assessed by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), a specialist in behavior intervention.  No one had conducted an ecological assessment (which can help identify skill deficits that can trigger behaviors).  No inclusion specialist was consulted.  No psychiatric evaluation had been done.  In reality, putting seclusion in the IEP translates to the educators saying, "We give up."

If the new law says that restraint and seclusion cannot be used in non-emergency situations, why would the CSDE provide guidance saying it can be used in non-emergency situations?

I asked the CSDE about this and received an email from Gail Mangs, a consultant at the state Bureau of Special Education, which states, "This is based on our reading of Public Act 15-141 which includes Section 1(j)(1) in which it states that in recording each instance of physical restraint or seclusion it must be specified whether the use of seclusion was in accordance with an IEP."  I double-checked, and yes, indeed, that language is in the law.  I sent a reply to Attorney Mangs, copying Isabelina Rodrigues, the Chief of the CSDE's Bureau of Special Education, that said ". . . apart from the reference to data collection for seclusion in accordance with the IEP (which seems like it may have been an oversight), it looks like all the other language from the previous law regarding a District's ability to include seclusion as a planned intervention in an IEP was explicitly deleted.  I am very concerned that Districts are going to continue to seclude students in non-emergency situations, which seems to be in direct conflict with the intent of PL 15-141."  To date, I have received no reply.  

Where can I find more information?

Attached to this post:
  • A powerpoint of the CSDE's Bureau of Special Education's legislative update, which includes their guidance stating that districts may still use seclusion in non-emergency situations  
  • Guidance from the Office of the Child Advocate and the Office of Protection and Advocacy, which contradicts CSDE guidance
  • Guidance from Shipman & Goodwin, a large law firm that represents many Connecticut school districts, which contradicts CSDE guidance
  • A copy of PA 15-141.  Note that the bracketed items in the statute include language that was deleted from the law
  • The CSDE's Annual Report on the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in Connecticut, 2013-2014
If you want to see the CSDE's video presentation of their guidance (made to about 100 Connecticut special education directors), go to http://ctserc.org/bts15  Scroll down, and click the upper left-hand corner of the video screen for the playlist.  Select "Legislative Updates - Gail Mangs."

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Diane Willcutts,
Oct 3, 2015, 8:32 AM
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Diane Willcutts,
Oct 3, 2015, 8:51 AM
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Diane Willcutts,
Oct 3, 2015, 8:32 AM
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Diane Willcutts,
Oct 3, 2015, 8:35 AM
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Diane Willcutts,
Oct 3, 2015, 8:35 AM
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