June 5, 2023— In the last few years, advocates have won important victories to limit the practice of seclusion and restraint in Illinois schools. However, on May 26th, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) notified parents that the district is in violation of several state policies concerning the practice of physical restraint, time out, and isolated time out, also known as RTO or restraint and seclusion, including a failure to meet training standards, improper use of prone restraints, and a failure to provide notice to parents when restraint techniques were used. In light of this news, Access Living strongly reaffirms its position that RTO is both a dangerous and harmful tactic, especially for students with disabilities.
What is restraint, time out, and isolated time out (RTO) and why is it harmful?
In Illinois schools, restraint is defined as a physical restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move their torso, arms, hands, legs or head freely for a period of time. Seclusion, or isolated time out, involves the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or other enclosure without a supervising adult. Restraint and seclusion practices can be dangerous, traumatic, and cause serious bodily harm to students. Additionally, researchers note that RTO is not a constructive treatment or intervention. In reality, the practice causes students to develop adversarial relationships. Furthermore, studies show that the practice disproportionately impacts students with disabilities, especially students of color with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection found that of the students restrained or secluded nationally, 80 percent were students with disabilities, with an outsized proportion being black male students with disabilities.
Progress to Date:
Access Living and advocates around the state of Illinois have worked tirelessly to curtail the harmful practice. In 2021 the governor signed HB 219 into law, which was a key victory for protecting the civil rights of students with disabilities. While the new law did not outlaw the practice completely, it did four distinct things to reduce harm:
- Barred dangerous forms of isolation and physical restraint unless there is “imminent danger of serious physical harm”
- Strengthened training requirements for school staff using RTO techniques
- Outlawed prone restraint (a potentially deadly form of restraint)
- Required parent notification of all incidents involving restraint and seclusion
We hope that with ISBE’s support, the district will take the necessary steps to fully comply with state law and work to establish trust with the families of students with disabilities, particularly in Black and Brown communities. As noted in ISBE’s recommendations, a training sustainability plan is vital so that several staff at each CPS school are aware of proper RTO procedures. These revelations also highlight that even with strict guidelines in place, RTO can still be dangerous and traumatic to students. Access Living will continue to advocate for a complete phase out of harmful restraint and seclusion practices in Illinois schools.
If you believe that your student experienced unlawful restraint or seclusion please contact our education policy analyst Frank Lally (firstname.lastname@example.org), or consider filing an RTO state complaint.