Dear Dawg: We’ve got some folks asking us to promise that we will never use physical restraint on certain kids.  What should we say?

We think you should politely but firmly refuse to promise that physical restraint will never be used with a student.  Oftentimes a request like that comes from caretakers and foster parents of kids in foster care.  It makes sense that caretakers for those kids would ask for this.  Many of those kids have endured horrific abuse from authority figures in the past. It makes sense that their caretakers would try to protect them from any use of physical force from teachers or administrators.

But it is dangerous to promise that physical restraint will never be used on a particular child.  It may be a commitment that you cannot keep.

Keep in mind that physical restraint can be imposed on a student in a Texas public school ONLY in a genuine emergency.  Can you tell me exactly when your next emergency is going to occur?  No?  I didn’t think so.  Emergencies are unpredictable.  You never know when restraint might be needed, and you cannot predict with accuracy the students who may create an emergency.

Our regulations define “emergency” as “a situation in which a student’s behavior poses a threat of (A) imminent, serious physical harm to the student or others; or (B) imminent serious property destruction.”  19 T.A.C. 89.1053(b)(1).

In a nutshell, physical restraint is a tool designed to prevent greater harm. We think it would be foolish to promise that you would never use it.  But do be sure that parents are aware that this is something that 1) is done only in an emergency; 2) that they will be notified of it promptly, and in writing; and 3) each incident of physical restraint will be documented in the child’s folder and available for review at the annual ARD meeting.