Casten, Durbin, Duckworth Urge DeVos to Ban Harmful Student Seclusion, Restraint Practices

January 15, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Sean Casten (D-IL-06), along with U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), led a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, asking the Department to issue federal guidance banning public schools’ use of seclusion and restraint practices that restrict student’s breathing and create other life-threatening conditions.

This letter follows a November 2019 joint report by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois that revealed that in Illinois alone, there were over 20,000 seclusions from August 2017 to December 2018. The same report also found that hundreds of these seclusions involved children in first grade or younger and disproportionately involved children with disabilities. This prompted the Illinois State Board of Education to issue an emergency rule to ban these practices. However, only four other states have taken similar action, leaving millions of children still at risk.

The letter said in part, “We are gravely concerned by harmful student seclusion and restraint practices occurring in schools around our country…The use of seclusion and dangerous restraints is putting the psychological well-being and lives of children at risk every day and must be addressed at the federal level immediately. We respectfully urge you to update the Department of Education’s 2016 guidance to ban seclusion, ban restraints that restrict breathing and are life-threatening, and promote evidence-based alternatives to reduce the use of physical restraint.”

The letter was also signed by U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Mike Quigley (D-IL-05), Danny K. Davis (D-IL-07), Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL-04), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07)

Read the full letter below or click here.

January 15, 2020

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

We are gravely concerned by harmful student seclusion and restraint practices occurring in schools around our country. We respectfully urge you to update your federal guidance banning seclusion, banning restraints that restrict breathing and are life-threatening, and promoting evidence-based, positive behavior strategies and de-escalation techniques to reduce the use of physical restraint.

According to a November 2019 report by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica IL, children as young as five, disproportionately children with disabilities, are being locked alone in empty rooms for behavioral concerns or to “calm down” after misbehavior. In reality, the rooms have the opposite effect: children throw themselves at the door and scratch at the windows trying to escape. Some are recorded as urinating on themselves, undressing, attempting to commit suicide, or crying out that they want to die. Tragically, in some states, children have died in seclusion rooms.

In Illinois alone, 20,000 such seclusions were reported from August 2017 to December 2018, hundreds of which involved children in first grade or younger, according to the November Tribune article. Not only does this practice cause students to miss valuable classroom time—some are secluded for hours on end—it can also cause serious physical and psychological trauma. A December Tribune and ProPublica IL follow-up article found that restraints—including restraints that can restrict breathing—were being used even when students and staff were not in physical danger, in violation of Illinois law.

We were relieved that, following the publication of the November report, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) responded swiftly to ban seclusion in schools across the state. However, that makes Illinois only the fifth state to ban seclusion. There are tens of millions of American children still at risk of experiencing this detrimental practice.

The use of seclusion and dangerous restraints are putting the psychological well-being and lives of children at risk every day and must be addressed at the federal level immediately. We respectfully urge you to update the Department of Education’s 2016 guidance to ban seclusion, ban restraints that restrict breathing and are life-threatening, and promote evidence-based alternatives to reduce the use of physical restraint.

We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

###

Issues: