.Nameplate February 2013 Issue
Sidebar                                                      Page 36


Restraint in Schools:

Benefits Beyond Safety



Merrill Winston
Regardless of which side of the debate you stand on, almost everyone can agree that restraint can provide momentary safety for a student in crisis and others. However, a use of restraint carries benefits that extend beyond momentary safety.

For one thing, a school can avoid the involvement of law enforcement personnel. Police officers are not required to adopt the intervention standards set by schools and do not necessarily treat students differently based on disability. Children in public schools have been hit with Tasers and pepper spray, and some have been handcuffed, including children as young as 5.

Restraint is typically used by teachers who know a child well, and they can distinguish between a child who is merely threatening and the child who poses an actual danger, something law enforcement may not be able to do. Teachers also are able to understand when a child is beginning to calm again. Most police tactics will expose the child to extreme discomfort or pain, which can be avoided using procedures that are appropriate to students with emotional disabilities.

Drug Alternatives
Another benefit of restraint use may be the decreased need for psychotropic medications, some of which (antipsychotics) can have permanent effects on the nervous systems of children. Most medications are given specifically for behavior control, regardless of the child’s diagnosis or symptoms.

Unlike psychotropic medications, restraints can be started and stopped immediately and target only dangerous behavior. When restraints are
terminated, the child still can function and learn. Medications typically cause changes across the child’s entire behavioral repertoire and rarely, if ever, target specific behaviors while leaving all others untouched. Some children are placed on medications specifically because staff members do not know what to do, are unwilling or unable to use restraint, or are prohibited from doing so by policy.

Restraints also allow teachers to set reasonable limits without fear that a child might injure himself or herself, the teacher, or classmates. The teacher is not necessarily setting limits by using restraints. Instead, the teacher needs to be able to use restraints when a child has a sudden unexpected reaction to a reasonable limit that has been enforced (e.g., “James, you must turn off the computer now”).

Teachers who are fearful of setting limits because of the consequences will not be able to manage their classrooms. This problem also arises when parents who are unable to safely control their own children due to strength and size disparities set no limits on behavior at home. They keep the peace for the moment but ensure the child will never learn to accept any limit on his or her behavior. Our society is full of limits of every kind, the violation of which can severely affect a person’s freedom.

The use of restraints also allows students to stay in their current placements instead of being placed in more restrictive classrooms or schools or segregated residential facilities. Some schools claim to follow a hands-off policy, resulting in the placement of any student exhibiting crisis behaviors in a more restrictive setting that’s costly for the district, inconvenient for the parents and disruptive to the student’s family.

Avoiding Segregation
Certainly all students can’t be treated the same at all schools in all circumstances, but schools that choose to use no restraints may be sending children to other placements — an unfortunate action that could be prevented by the judicious use of restraint, coupled with an appropriate behavioral support plan.

The potential benefits of restraints (and these are only a few) go well beyond immediate safety and may have significant and far-reaching implications for a student’s ultimate success or failure, not only in school but as a member of society.

Merrill Winston is director of program development with Professional Crisis Management Association in Sunrise, Fla. E-mail: merrill@pcma.com


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