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    February 2019

    Using Physical Restraints on Students

    Safety holds use physical restraint to restrict a student’s freedom of movement when he or she poses an imminent and serious physical threat to him or herself or others. When used correctly, the holds diffuse potentially dangerous situations, such as a student attempt to use a weapon or otherwise injure himself or others, some experts say.

    However, safety holds are under serious scrutiny. In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study that analyzed reports of abuse or death stemming from these holds. GAO found that blocking the child’s air passages or otherwise restricting airflow, such as putting undue or prolonged pressure on the chest, could be deadly. Other studies have noted the potential for psychological trauma, given the humiliating nature of the holds, and for an administrator to be physically harmed while restraining a student.

    The following recommendations can help schools use holds effectively and minimize potential harm.

    Best Practices

    • Use only after all prior attempts to de-escalate the situation have failed.
    • Never use a hold as punishment.
    • Officials trained in their use should administer a hold with the minimum amount of force necessary.
    • Conduct holds with another adult present.

    Follow-up Procedures

    • A nurse should examine the student for signs of injury.
    • The official who administered the hold should inform the head of school as soon as possible and document the incident in writing.
    • The head of school or other high-ranking official should inform the parents as soon as possible.
    • The school should discuss the situation with the student and explain the reason for using the safety hold.

    School administrators should understand  state legal requirements and ensure that the safety holds policy:

    • States its goals and clearly defines the behaviors that would permit use of holds.
    • Describes the types of restraints permitted and dictates training requirements for administrators.
    • Delineates reporting requirements to parents, head of school, and health center, or as required by state law.

    The school must ensure that all staff, including volunteers and substitute teachers, are aware of the policy.


    U.S. Department of Education: Summary Table of Seclusion and Restraint Statutes, Regulations, Policies and Guidance, by State and Territories

    U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Effective School-wide Interventions: Considerations for Seclusion and Restraint Use in School‐wide Positive Behavior Supports

    New Hampshire Department of Education: Guidance on Considering the Use of Physical Restraints in New Hampshire School Settings


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