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January 2011



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First Published Tuesday, 5 May 2009

*In Majority of Cases, Parents Had Not Consented, Schools Did Not Provide
Comprehensive Positive Behavioral Intervention Plans*

*May 5, 2009*

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) today released a
report asking Congress to stop the use of restraints, seclusion, and
aversives upon children with disabilities in school.  The report
entitled, Unsafe in the Schoolhouse: Abuse of Children with Disabilities, details 143
incidents of the use of abusive interventions against children with
disabilities in school.  The report also includes suggested legislative

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) is a national
nonprofit organization of parents, advocates, and attorneys who work to
protect the civil rights of children with disabilities and ensure that they
receive appropriate educational services.  We have over 1200 members in 47
states and the District of Columbia.  Our members see the successes and
failures of special education through thousands of eyes, every day of every

No child should be subject to abuse in the guise of education.  Every
child’s dignity and human rights must be respected.  Abusive interventions
are neither educational nor effective.  They are dangerous and unjust.
Congress should act swiftly to adopt national legislation to protect
children with disabilities.  Thirty miles and a state border should not
determine whether a child receives comprehensive protection or little

In March-April 2009, we conducted a survey that identified 143 cases in
which children were subjected to aversive interventions.  We received
reports of children subject to prone restraints; injured by larger adults
who restrained them; tied, taped and trapped in chairs and equipment; forced
into locked seclusion rooms; made to endure pain, humiliation and deprived
of basic necessities, and subjected to a variety of other abusive
techniques.  The most recent report involved events revealed only in the
last month:  a father learned that his 8 year old son was restrained 60
times over a 9-10 month period.

Of the survey respondents, 71% had not consented to the use of aversive
interventions; 16% had, but many believed the interventions would only be
used in limited circumstances where there was an imminent threat of injury.
Moreover, 71% reported that the children in involved did not have a
research-based positive behavioral intervention plans; 10% did (but the
parents often said that the plan was not followed).  84% of children
restrained were under 14 years of age, with 53% aged 6-10.

The use of abusive interventions primarily occurred in segregated
disability-only classrooms or in private seclusion rooms, away from the eyes
of witnesses, with only 26% of the respondents reporting incidents in the
regular classroom.  Almost every disability category was represented:
Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome (cited by 68% of the survey respondents),
ADD/ADHD (27%); Developmental Delay, Emotional Disturbance, Intellectual
Disability and Speech/Language Impairment (14%-20% of respondents); Specific
Learning Disabilities (11%), and others.  Many parents also indicated that
their children had Down Syndrome, epilepsy, Tourette Syndrome and other
specific conditions.

Among the incidents of abuse reported to COPAA are these:

·        A 9 year old boy with autism in Tennessee was restrained face-down
in his school’s isolation room for four hours.  One adult was across his
torso and another across his legs, even though he weighed only 52 pounds.
His mother was denied access to him, as she heard him scream and cry.  He
received bruises and marks all over his body from the restraints.  He was
released to his mother only after she presented a due process hearing notice
under the IDEA.

·        The teacher of a 15 year old Californian with Down Syndrome
reported to his parents that he had been confined inside a closet with an
aide as in-school suspension.  The teacher was concerned about the
confinement and believed it to be wrong.  Although the child had a
behavioral intervention plan, the school district did not follow it.  He was
in the closet all day.  He was only allowed out to go to the bathroom,
causing extreme humiliation as he walked in front of his classmates.

·        An 11 year old South Carolinian girl was being restrained with
beanbags on the floor, and the school attempted to use a straightjacket
restraint on her.  As a result of advocacy by her attorneys, the restraints
were terminated.  Her curriculum was changed to be more age appropriate
because her behaviors appeared to result from being bored with curriculum.
A new crisis plan was put into place to avoid restraint: if the student
became aggressive toward staff, the staff would break away from the student
and briefly leave the classroom. Using this plan, the child quickly calmed
down and went to her desk area.  Previously, the school district had
requested that the parent take the child home early on regular basis;
parents report this has not happened for the last 2 months.  With the new
behavioral plan, the child has made substantial progress in school.

The report includes a summary of all 143 incidents.

COPAA applauds the school teachers, personnel, administrators, and education
leaders who join us in rejecting the use of restraints, seclusion, and
aversives and in providing Positive Behavioral Supports (PBS).  At the same
time, we stress the importance of adopting effective laws to keep children
safe.  These include mandatory PBS, statutory prohibitions on the use of
restraints, seclusion, and aversives, and strong enforcement mechanisms to
hold school district accountable for violations.

Congress should act immediately to ban prone and mechanical restraints, all
restraints that interfere with breathing, locked seclusion rooms, and the
application of painful aversives.  In addition, physical restraint may only
be permitted when there is an imminent threat of serious injury to self or
others.  School districts and their personnel must be held accountable for
any violations of the law, and parents must have all legal remedies to
pursue justice.  All children must receive comprehensive positive behavioral
intervention plans, and schools must provide training on PBS, the harms of
aversive interventions, and the applicable legal requirements.  Schools must
also monitor and report the number of aversive interventions.  The public
policy recommendations are discussed in greater detail in the full report.

The full report, including the 143 incidents of abusive interventions in
school and COPAA’s legislative recommendations, is available on COPAA’s
website, http://www.copaa.org/news/unsafe.html.

We salute all organizations, parents, advocates, and professionals who have
long worked to combat the use of aversive interventions.  In particular, we
wish to recognize the members of The Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive
Interventions and Seclusion  (APRAIS), to which COPAA belongs.  We thank
every person who reported an incident of abuse to COPAA and we thank
everyone who publicized the survey; it is your work that made this
possible.  Special thanks to COPAA members Doug Loeffler, Diane Willcutts,
Becca Devine, and Kathleen Loyer for helping summarize the 143 incident
reports, Marcie Lipsitt for proofreading, and to Bob Berlow, Leslie Seid
Margolis, Judith Gran, and Denise Marshall for their analytical assistance
in reviewing drafts of the report.

–Jessica Butler

Government Relations Co-Chair (Congressional Affairs)

Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates, Inc. (COPAA)



Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
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