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Rules of Restraint

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Educators in the classroom need to learn a new rule this school year.  The Department of Education established new standards and procedures for the use of physical restraint and seclusion in schools.  Under the new policy, physical restraint and seclusion may only be used as stated in the rule: “an emergency intervention when the behavior of a student presents an imminent risk of injury or harm to the student or others.”

To understand the new rule it is important to define certain key aspects which educators may face.


Physical restraint: “intervention that restricts a student’s freedom of movement or normal access to his or her body, and includes physically moving a student who has not moved voluntarily. 

Physical restraint does not include:

  1. Physical escort;
  2. Physical prompt;
  3. Physical contact when the purpose of the intervention is to comfort a student and the student voluntarily accepts the contact;
  4. Momentarily deflecting the movement of a student when the student’s movement would be destructive, harmful or dangerous to the student or to others;
  5. The use of seat belts, safety belts or similar passenger restraint, when used as intended, during the transportation of a child in a motor vehicle; or
  6. The use of a medically prescribed harness, when used as intended.

Seclusion: the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or clearly defined area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. Seclusion is not timeout.

Imminent risk of injury or harm: describes a situation in which a student has the means to cause physical harm or injury to self or others and such injury or harm is likely to occur at any moment; such that a reasonable and prudent person would take steps instantly to protect the student and others against the risk of such injury or harm.

The definitions alone do not paint a clear picture of the situations that may arise in the classroom.  For example, if a student is causing significant property damage can he/she be restrained? The answer, according to the rule is no.  Property damage alone is not sufficient justification to use physical restraint. However, often times the kind of behavior that would cause property damage may also put others at imminent risk of injury if perhaps that student is smashing or throwing objects; in that case restraint would be appropriate.

Reporting Physical Restraint Incidents

With the new rules, each incident of physical restraint or seclusion must be verbally reported to an administrator or designee as soon as possible and no later than the end of the school day in which the incident occurred.   In addition to the verbal communication, each time physical restraint or seclusion is used an incident report must be filed.  The incident report must be completed within two school days of the event and at minimum, according to the rule must include:

  1. Student name, age, gender, grade
  2. Location and date of the incident
  3. Date of report, person filing report
  4. Beginning, ending and total time of each physical restraint and seclusion
  5. Description of prior events and circumstances
  6. Less restrictive interventions tried prior to the use of physical restraint or seclusion. If none, explain
  7. The student behavior that justified the restraint or seclusion
  8. Detailed description of the restraint or seclusion used, including people involved and their certification, if any, in an approved training program
  9. Description of the incident, including the resolution and process of return to the program, if appropriate
  10. Whether the student has an: a. IEP; b. 504 plan; c. behavior plan; d. IHP; or e. other plan
  11. If student or staff sustained bodily injury, date and time of nurse response and treatment, if any
  12. Date and time of parent notification and date and time of staff debriefing

The rules are new and educators are just beginning to understand how they work and the implications in the classroom.  MEA Executive Director Rob Walker sent a letter to Commissioner Bowen asking the Department of Education to reopen rule-making on this issue.

The MEA is working to create some special training sessions to make sure that our members are clear on how to deal with the rules and any situations that may arise in the classroom. Keep an eye on your email and the MEA website for further information about these upcoming sessions.

Read the MEA Press Release about the impact of the Restraint Rule on Maine's Teachers.

View media coverage of the Restraint Rule's impact on teachers.

MEA's Letter to Commissioner Bowen

MEA Press Release about the impact of the Restraint Rule on Maine's Teachers

View media coverage of the Restraint Rule's impact on teachers

Commissioner of Education Bowen's response to letters asking to reopen the Chapter 33 rules

MEA Benefits Trust

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