Circuit Court affirms use of restraint.

On “Toolbox Tuesdays” here at the Daily Dawg we like to highlight issues concerning disciplinary techniques in dealing with students with disabilities. The Toolbox is a full day training program that describes ten “tools” available to school officials.  Physical restraint is not one of the tools, but it is something that we talk about in the Toolbox training. In particular, we discuss how physical restraint should, or should not, be addressed in a BIP.

So I keep an eye out for court cases involving restraint.  I found a recent one from the 8th Circuit.    The Bentonville School District (Arkansas) used physical restraint periodically in dealing with two elementary aged students with autism.  The 8th Circuit held that the district’s use of restraint did not discriminate against the students. Nor did it deprive them of FAPE or their constitutional right to bodily integrity.

Physical restraint is never the favored approach.  On the other hand, schools should make sure that parents understand that restraint may be necessary in an emergency to maintain safety.  In the Arkansas case, the court pointed out that both students had IEPs that provided numerous techniques and interventions designed to address behavioral issues.  Despite all that, the district found it necessary, at times, to get physical with the children.  Consider the behavior of the child identified as “Child L:”

Despite multiple programming conferences and attempts to manage Child L’s recurring misbehavior, from December 2012 until the time the parents withdrew Child L from the District, Child L exhibited behavioral outbursts that ranged from mild disruptions to acts of aggression that resulted in physical harm to several District employees.

Child L’s behavior was summarized like this:

The behavior included hitting; spitting; throwing objects, furniture, school supplies, and books; yelling; biting; pushing walls and objects; scratching; pulling and ripping out hair; head-butting; pulling clothing; attempting to insert spit into an electrical outlet; disrobing; attempting to choke himself by putting a finger down his throat; running around the room; banging on doors and glass; pushing over cabinets; dumping out containers; ripping handles off closed shelves; kicking computer monitors, chairs, and desks; and urinating on the carpet.

All that in about two months.  After first trying interventions set out in the IEP, the district used restraints.

Courts will scrutinize the use of restraint carefully.  Did the district follow state guidelines? Did the district attempt less drastic interventions first? Did the district comply with the student’s IEP and/or BIP?  All things considered, was the use of restraint reasonable under the circumstances?

These are the things we talk about in the Toolbox. If you are interested in a training, please let me know.

This case is Parrish v. Bentonville School District, decided by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 24, 2018. We found it at 118 LRP 30734.


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