News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hundreds of Maine Students Physically Restrained or Secluded, Report Finds

by Sharon Wachsler

Thanks to a new law requiring schools to report data on instances of physical restraint or isolation/seclusion of Maine students, there are now numbers on how many Maine students are being dealt with in these ways. The Kennebec Journal reports that out of 92 public school districts, there were 3,752 instances of physical restraint and 1,405 instances of seclusion.

According to the article, restraint "is defined as using physical force to move a student or keep the student somewhere against their will," and seclusion "is  defined as a student involuntarily being alone in a specific space".

Perhaps more telling for Ability Maine readers, a much smaller number of special education programs reported data, but the numbers were twice as high: 7,923 instances of restraint and 1,477 of seclusion. This means that disabled students are much more likely to be restrained or secluded. Indeed, this point is made in the article by disability rights advocates:
"These are potentially dangerous interventions and they're not effective in reducing behaviors," said Atlee Reilly, staff attorney for the Maine Disability Rights Center, which has advocated for parents and students. "I think people should be asking some questions about these numbers." Reilly said the new data is not specific enough to allow conclusions. He said a large number of incidents in a district might be concentrated at a particular school, and within a particular program.
That is the case in Lewiston, which had the highest numbers for a school district. The district has a day treatment center for special-needs students in one of its schools, which skewed the numbers because they are reported "by building."
Superintendent Bill Webster said that of the 449 instances of physical restraint reported in the district, 359 were at the day treatment center.
It is also noteworthy that the number of students being restrained or secluded is small in comparison to the number of instances. In other words, of those students who are secluded or restrained, it seems to happen to them repeatedly. For example, in the day treatment programs (which have the higher numbers of instances of restraint and seclusion), between 105 and 145 students were secluded a total of 1,477 times. This puts the average number of seclusions around nine or ten times per student. For restraints in the same population, 7,923 instances of restraint occurred among 523 and 571 students, bringing the average number per student to between 13 and 14 times. These numbers support Reilly's argument that these methods are not effective in modifying future instances of behavior that staff find "out of control."

To read more on this topic, including parent advocates speaking out and the Department of Education's take on it, please visit

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