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New Wisconsin Law on Restraint and Seclusion of Pupils in Public Schools

  • March 28, 2012

A measure that provides specific guidance on the use of seclusion and physical restraint of pupils in Wisconsin’s public schools has been signed into law by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Under the new law, which takes effect on September 1, 2012, the use of seclusion or physical restraint is prohibited, unless the child’s behavior presents a “clear, present, and imminent risk to the physical safety of the pupil or others.” In addition, such measures must represent the “least restrictive” intervention and may last only as long as reasonably necessary to resolve the problem.

Under the law, seclusion must be accompanied by monitoring and access to basic necessities. A “covered individual” (e.g., school official) who implements seclusion must maintain constant supervision of the pupil (either in person or through a window) in an unlocked room or area that is free of potentially harmful objects or fixtures. In addition, the pupil must have access to bathroom facilities, drinking water, necessary mediation, and regularly scheduled meals. Physical restraint may not be used if medical considerations would preclude it. Further, the degree of force and the duration of restraint may not exceed what is reasonably necessary to end the danger.

The law encourages school officials to consider the use of less-restrictive disciplinary approaches, such as directing a disruptive pupil to temporarily separate from the classroom activity, directing the pupil to remain in the classroom during activities in other areas, and briefly touching a pupil’s hand, arm, shoulder or back to calm and redirect the pupil.

If seclusion or physical restraint is used on a child with a disability, the child’s education program team must convene to discuss positive behavioral interventions and other support strategies that would address the behavior of concern.

Prohibitions

Regardless of the threat posed, the law prohibits the use of certain restrictive maneuvers or techniques, including those that would target a child’s head or place pressure or weight on the child’s neck, chest, throat, lungs, sternum, diaphragm, back or abdomen. Actions that would restrict a child’s breathing or circulation, or would constitute corporal punishment, also are prohibited. Mechanical or chemical restraints are not permitted except in the context of aligning a pupil’s body or assisting the pupil with mobility or maintaining balance. Those measures may be implemented only under the direction and supervision of appropriate medical or therapeutic staff.

A school official is generally prohibited from using physical restraint, unless the official has received training in several areas, including identifying dangerous behavior, administering various types of physical restraint, and methods for preventing the need for such techniques. The law permits an exception in emergency situations in which an individual with the required training is not available. 

Reports

The new law also includes a reporting requirement when seclusion or physical restraint is used. The parent of the child subject to seclusion or restraint must be notified within one business day of the incident and must be given access to a written report.  The written report must be completed within two business days of the incident.

In addition to documenting individual incidents, a school principal must annually report to the school’s governing body the number of instances of seclusion or physical restraint that occurred during the previous school year.

Plan of Action

School districts should consider developing an action plan to comply with the new Wisconsin law mandates. The plan should include:

  • Policy development on seclusion, restraint, and discipline of students;
  • Evaluation of past occurrences and current policy on seclusion and restraint;
  • Training and education for all school staff on the requirements of the law and the school’s policy;
  • Specialized training for special education staff on the circumstances they may encounter; and
  • Evaluation of outside provider contracts for security, busing, and extracurricular activities for assurance that the provider’s members are properly trained and, in case of violations of the law by the provider, that the school district would be held harmless or indemnified.

The implementation of this plan will take some time.  Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to answer questions about the new law and to provide assistance in the development of your action plan and implementing policies.

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