Toolbox Tuesday!! Let’s go easy with the physical restraint

On Toolbox Tuesdays we like to highlight court cases that illustrate key features of the Toolbox, which is a set of ten “tools” available to school administrators when dealing with students with disabilities who present challenging behaviors.  Physical restraint is not one of the ten tools, but we talk about it a lot during the full day Toolbox training.  We point out that physical restraint is an emergency option that has to be available, but should be used only in strict accordance with our laws and regulations. 

A case from Pennsylvania illustrates another point: over reliance on physical restraint is not a good thing.  In fact, one could conclude that if physical restraint is used too much, it indicates that the school’s plan for improving the student’s behavior is not working.

That’s what happened in this case.  The court held that “The persistent use of physical restraint over three years suggests that whatever ‘plan’ the district had in place was inadequate.”  Key Quote:

Even accepting the school district’s argument that its use of restraints was always reasonable, the persistent use of such a measure is a red flag.  A tool meant as a “last resort,” deployed dozens of times over three years, is strong evidence that the behavior plan was not working.

The court did not set out any specific boundaries, but simply concluded that using restraint over 25 times in three years is too much.  Perhaps it would be a good idea for ARD Committees to establish some parameters.  It would be foolish for an IEP to prohibit the use of physical restraint. We never know when this emergency measure may be needed. But it would be wise to set out some benchmarks, such as:

If it is necessary to use physical restraint on the student more than ____ times in a semester, the school will initiate an ARDC meeting to discuss the situation with the goal of reducing the need to use restraint.

This case carries one more good lesson for us about BIPs, which are Tool #1 in the Toolbox.  The court faulted the district for including a toileting goal in the student’s IEP without any plan for how the goal would be achieved. Key Quote:

The Court is reminded of the proverb, sometimes attributed to Antoine de Saint Exupery, and lately popularized by Coach Herm Edwards, that “a goal without a plan is a wish.”

There are two components to any good BIP.  You have to have a goal, and then a means of achieving the goal. The first part is easy. Anyone with common sense can articulate the behavioral goal. The hard part is the “how to achieve” part.  Here, the court faulted the district for omitting that part entirely.  So let’s not do that.

The case is Pottsgrove School District v. D.H., decided by the federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on September 10, 2018. We found it at 72 IDELR 271.


Tomorrow: we take a look at a transferring athlete.