The use of restraint and seclusion in schools continues to be a high priority for state and federal policy makers. Ohio’s first regulations specifically addressing restraint, seclusion, and positive behavior intervention and supports took effect in 2013 as Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) 3301-35-15. In June 2018, the General Assembly passed House Bill (HB) 318, also known as “the SAFE Act”. This law addresses a variety of student discipline issues, including a requirement to rewrite Ohio’s restraint and seclusion regulations.
Ohio Administrative Code 3301-35-15 was due for review by August 2018, but the process has not been completed. HB 318 set a deadline for revision of OAC 3301-35-15 by early February 2019. Again, no revisions were made. However, work is ongoing at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and various stakeholder groups are being presented with draft rule revisions this summer. It is anticipated that in the coming months, there will be a proposed rule presented for public comment and consideration by the State Board of Education.
In the meantime, existing requirements for the use of restraint and seclusion remain in place. This includes absolute restrictions on certain practices, and significant data tracking and reporting requirements. The summer “break” is a good time for administrators to review existing training programs, plan for which staff members may require additional training due to student assignments and program changes, and review reporting data for the recently completed school year to determine if there are any patterns or gaps that need to be addressed.
While the use of restraint and seclusion generally should be rare, consistent reports of zero incidents may raise a red flag. A recent report from the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that nine of the nation’s 30 largest school districts reported no incidents of restraint or seclusion in the last reported year (2015-2016). The GAO and U.S. Department of Education presume that such reports are inaccurate, with the GAO reporting that, “We are encouraged that Education recognizes the seriousness of this issue and the data quality issues it has allowed to persist when districts inappropriately and inaccurately report zero incidents of restraint and seclusion.”
In addition to whatever new requirements might be rolled out by the U.S. Department of Education to address its concerns, long-proposed federal legislation is expected to be reintroduced later this year. The bill, called the “Keeping All Students Safe Act,” is likely to overlap significantly with Ohio’s restraint and seclusion regulations.