The Utah State Office of Education has revised its rules on the use of seclusion or restraint of special education students for disciplinary purposes.
Utah State Office of Education has amended Utah Administrative Rule R277-609, prohibiting the seclusion or restraint of a child for disciplinary purposes — a practice that is only permissible if the student is a danger to themselves or others.
Neomi Dyal, the Salt Lake City grandmother of an autistic student, experienced firsthand the misuse of seclusion and restraint when in 2010 she found out her grandson, Christopher, had been locked in a seclusion booth as punishment for up to four hours during the school day.
“We went to pick him up, and he was in the booth, naked, with feces and urine all over himself and the wall while the door was locked,” Dyal said.
On other occasions Chrisopher was strapped into a Rifton Chair as a method for punishment. As a result, Dyal said, he would come home with scrapes and bruises from the straps.
Utah currently has neither a law that specifies how long teachers can place children in these booths nor rules that explain what forms of restraint are allowed and under what circumstances.
Since 2009, LauraLee Gillespie, an attorney at The Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City, has fought hand in hand with the Dyal family for a new set of rules that will include specifications, such as time restrictions, to ensure the safety of all special needs children.
“The more legal research we did the more we realized that there were really no rules or laws on the books that did anything to protect these kids,” Gillespie said. “There are no rules on the books, and as a result, kids are not being protected in the schools; and the state office agrees.”
Gillespie also argued that this type of treatment is unacceptable and should only be used in a crisis rather than for behavior correction.
“All the research says it is not an appropriate method for discipline,” Gillespie said. “Come fall, schools can’t just use the rules however they choose.”
Blake Hansen, a BYU professor, believes incidents such as those with Christopher could be avoided with effort.
“I would like to focus more on prevention rather than using those punishment procedures and safety procedures,” Hansen said. “In the past, special needs children have suffered great pain, medical complications and, in the worst cases, death as a result of inappropriate discipline methods.”
After Christopher’s enduring the effects from the misuse of seclusion and restraint for over four years, his aunt, Ana-Marie Dyal, hopes this rule will help protect children from ineffective and destructive treatment while helping the school system understand how to deal with outbursts.
“Instead of trying to find out why he is doing that, they would put him in the booth, where he would self-destruct even more,” she said. “He would scratch his face, and no one was watching him, so he would scratch until he bled. He would come home with scars on his arms from bite marks and covered in urine.”
Hansen believes the best way to avoid further instances like Christopher’s is through appropriate instruction tailored to the child’s needs.
“Using effective teaching procedures and methods are the No.1 ways to reduce challenging behavior,” Hansen said. “Making sure that the level of instruction that is provided is tailored to the child’s interests and academic skill level.”
According to Gillespie, the new regulations will not only be set to ensure the safety of students but the safety of the schools and their teachers if they follow the new guidelines.
“We say it’s a great protection for schools, too, because a parent could sue a school for being negligent or abusing these rules under a personal injury case,” Gillespie said.
The rules will also help to hold schools accountable for their wrongful actions.
“Now, when the rules are broken, the law is broken. This helps to hold educators responsible for their actions,” Gillespie said.
The rule is expected to take effect this fall.