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Draft Regulations Limit Restraint, Seclusion of Virginia Students

Agribusiness Teaching Center hallway
Agribusiness Teaching Center hallway

A 2015 state law required the Virginia Board of Education to adopt  regulations restricting the use of seclusion and restraint of students in public schools. Those regulations are  still in draft form, and there’s a  public hearing on them Thursday morning.

“We are hopeful that these new regulations help schools to realize that restraint is never the first option, it’s never the second option,” said Colleen Miller, Executive Director of the Disability Law Center of Virginia. “It should only really be used when there’s a serious danger to the child or others in the environment.”

Under the new regulations, seclusion and restraint could only be used to prevent a student seriously harming or injuring themselves or others, quell a disturbance or remove a student from a disturbance, or obtain possession of weapons or dangerous objects.

They prohibit the use of mechanical or pharmacological restraint, and also ban corporal punishment. The guidelines also require school staff to notify principals and parents the same day students are restrained or secluded.

“It can’t be one of these things where at the end of the school year we say, ‘Oh, by the way, we restrained your child 45 times in the last semester,’ ” Miller said.

After parents are notified, the school division must then submit an incident report “as soon as practical” to the principal, and send a report to parents within seven days of the incident. Right now, Miller says, only some school districts require reporting.

“And even where we’ve seen reporting requirements, we think there’s a pretty poor compliance with those reporting compliance,” Miller said. “So it’s really hard to get a grip on how widespread the use is.”

A recent  WAMU investigation found widespread use of student seclusion within Fairfax County Public Schools in northern Virginia.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights,  122,000 students across the country were physically restrained, mechanically restrained, or secluded during the 2015-2016 school year.

The public can weigh in on Virginia’s proposed regulations on student restraint and seclusion online through April 19.


Megan Pauly covers education and healthcare issues in the greater Richmond region. She was a 2020-21 reporting fellow with ProPublica's Local Reporting Network, and a 2019-20 reporting fellow with the Education Writers Association.