Emergency Seclusion and Restraint Refresher

Three years ago, the Michigan Legislature amended the Revised School Code to prohibit the use of seclusion and restraint in schools except in emergency situations. An “emergency situation” occurs when a student’s be­havior poses an imminent risk to the safety of the student or others.

School officials continue to confront legal and practical issues related to emergency seclusion and re­straint, particularly in identifying whether an action constitutes seclusion or restraint. The Revised School Code defines “seclusion” as “the confinement of a pupil in a room or other space from which the pupil is physi­cally prevented from leaving.” The only exception to this definition is when the confinement is part of an emer­gency lockdown drill or other similar emergency procedure.

Recent U.S. Department of Education guidance suggests that seclusion does not occur if another indi­vidual is present with a student, even if the student is prevented from leaving the space. This guidance, how­ever, does not override Michigan law.  For Michigan school officials, the key factor for determining whether a “seclusion” occurs is whether the student is “physi­cally prevented from leaving” the room (by either a per­son or an object), and not whether the student is alone in the room.

The Revised School Code defines “restraint” as “an action that prevents or significantly restricts a pupil’s movement” and involves direct physical contact. How­ever, the statute specifically excludes several categories of actions from the definition of “restraint,” including:

  • briefly holding a student to calm or comfort the student;
  • minimum contact necessary to physically escort a student from one place to another;
  • briefly holding a student to prevent an impulsive behavior that threatens that stu­dent’s immediate safety (e.g., running in front of a car);
  • adaptive or protective devices recommended by a physician or therapist when used as recommended;
  • necessary actions to break up a fight, stop a physical assault, or take a weapon from a student; and
  • actions integral to a sporting event (e.g., a referee pulling football players out of a pile).

Emergency seclusion and restraint are last resort options to be used only until the student regains con­trol. Elementary age students should not be secluded for longer than 15 minutes and middle/high school stu­dents should not be secluded for longer than 20 minutes. Similarly, students of all ages should not be re­strained for longer than 10 minutes. Although Michigan law allows for seclusion or restraint to go beyond these time limits, it should happen very rarely. School staff must bring in additional personnel and document an explanation for exceeding the time limit. If the student has regained control and the emergency situation no longer exists (i.e., the student’s behavior no longer poses an “imminent risk” to self or others), then the student must be released from seclusion or restraint.

Ensuring that all staff have appropriate awareness training on Michigan’s emergency seclusion and re­straint laws and that key identified personnel have the required comprehensive training is crucial to the ap­propriate use of seclusion and restraint in school. Thrun attorneys are available to provide training to staff on seclusion and restraint.