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Regulations For Use of Seclusion and Restraint In Public Schools Awaiting Governor Northam’s Approval

Virginia Delegate Richard "Dickie" Bell
Virginia Delegate Richard "Dickie" Bell introduced legislation barring the use of unsafe seclusion and restraint methods. (Craig Carper/VPM News)

Regulations for the use of seclusion and restraint of students in Virginia public schools have been in the works for years. They’re now awaiting approval from Governor Ralph Northam. That was the update that Samantha Hollins, assistant superintendent for Virginia’s department of special education and student services, provided to state lawmakers Wednesday during a Virginia Commission on Youth meeting.

The Virginia Department of Education currently only regulates the use of seclusion and restraint in private day schools serving students with disabilities. The regulatory process for the use of the practices in public schools began in 2015.

“It has been 4 long years,” Republican Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell (R - Staunton) said. He introduced legislation in 2015 that launched the regulatory process. “But we know the wheels turn slowly on this end of things.”

There have been multiple rounds of public comment periods since 2015. 

A new law also took effect this year, sponsored by Bell, that required the Virginia Board of Education to restrict methods of seclusion and restraint that are deemed “unsafe.” That led to the board’s vote to ban the use of prone, or face-down, restraint in July.

“I’m pleased with the direction we’re moving in,” Bell told VPM News Wednesday. “Like so many things, it takes so long to get it done when it’s so obvious that something needs to be done.”

He says there needs to be standards about the use of these practices in public schools because right now, there are none.

Bell is retiring, but hopes other lawmakers like Democratic Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) will continue to look into the issue. Favola has worked with Bell on the issue of seclusion and restraint over the last several years.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Favola questioned Sam Hollins about staff training on the practices. About $500,000 in state funds was recently allocated to help VDOE create an online training that school divisions can use to satisfy the regulatory requirements for training, and distribute grants to school divisions for other training, under the proposed regulations.

“In your opinion, is that funding level sufficient?” Favola asked.

“I think there still might be a need from the local school divisions’ perspective to support this work and ensure that training is implemented in accordance with the regulations,” Hollins said.

If and when the Governor signs off on the regulations for Virginia public schools, there will be another 30-day public comment period before regulations take effect.

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.
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