On May 1, 2023 (form dated April 24, 2023), the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from #### (complainant) against the #### (district). The issue identified is whether the district, beginning the 2022-23 school year, improperly utilized physical restraint with a student with a disability. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint.
Wisconsin law prohibits the use of physical restraint with students at school unless a student's behavior presents a clear, present, and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others and is the least restrictive intervention feasible. Wis. Stat. § 118.305(3). Physical restraint means a restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to freely move the torso, arms, legs, or head. If physical restraint is used, the degree of force and the duration of the physical restraint may not exceed the degree and duration that are reasonable and necessary to resolve the clear, present, and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others. Wisconsin law prohibits the use of maneuvers that do not give adequate attention and care to protect the restrained student’s head, cause chest compression, place pressure on or weight on the student’s neck, throat, artery, the back of the student’s head, otherwise obstruct the student’s circulation or breathing, or place the student in a prone position. The use of prone restraint is prohibited under Wisconsin State Law. Wis. Stat. § 118.305(d)4.
Whenever a covered individual, such as a school employee or a law enforcement officer, use seclusion or physical restraint on a student at school, the school principal or designee (principal) must notify the student’s parent of the incident as soon as practicable, but no later than one business day after the incident. Wis. Stat. § 118.305(4)(a). The principal must meet with the school staff who participated in the incident to discuss the events preceding, during, and following the use of seclusion or physical restraint. The discussion must include how to prevent the need for seclusion or physical restraint, including the factors that may have contributed to the escalation of behaviors, alternatives to physical restraint, such as de-escalation techniques and possible interventions, and other strategies that the principal determines are appropriate. Within two business days, the principal must complete a written report of the incident, including the student’s name, the date, time, and duration of the use of physical restraint or seclusion, a description of the incident, including a description of the actions of the student before, during and after the incident, and the names and titles of the school staff and any law enforcement officers present at the time of the incident. The principal must send or hand deliver the written report to the student’s parent within three business days of the incident. Wis. Stat. § 118.305(4)(b). The second time that seclusion or physical restraint is used on a student with a disability within the same school year, the student's individualized education program (IEP) team must meet as soon as practicable after the incident but no later than 10 school days after the incident. Wis. Stat. § 118.305(5).
The student who is the subject of this complaint attends an elementary school in the district. The student’s IEP includes a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) to prevent and address disruptive behaviors. The student’s parents reported that after school on April 18, 2023, the student informed them that two district staff members had held the student down that morning. The parents emailed and spoke on the phone with the student’s special education teacher. The parents reported that the special education teacher admitted that staff placed the student in a prone restraint. The student’s parents emailed district administrators and teachers at 4:26 p.m., expressing concerns about the incident and the lack of communication, and requested a phone call or meeting the following morning.
The school principal replied to the email at 7:41 a.m. the next morning, promising to investigate that day and ensuring that no staff members involved would provide services to the student pending the results of the investigation. The principal and a school resource officer conducted interviews together, speaking with the special education teacher and paraprofessional separately and determining they were the only two staff involved. The paraprofessional reported that at about 10 a.m., the student came into the special education classroom upset about spelling. The student ran around and knocked over chairs. The student removed both shoes and threw them at the teacher. The student then hid under a table and kicked at its supports. Concerned for the student’s safety, both staff asked the student to come out from under the table. The student came out from under the table in a seated position. The student scooted towards and kicked at the paraprofessional when she attempted to remain at a distance. The paraprofessional reported touching the tops of the student’s feet or legs while the student was lying down to block kicks but did not hold down or restrict the student’s ability to move. The student attempted to hit the teacher. The teacher lifted the student’s arms and briefly tickled the student under the arms. The student laughed and relaxed. The teacher reported a similar narrative and explained that she repeatedly tried to verbally redirect the student and resorted to tickling when nothing else worked. She stated that the student’s body positions during the incident were sitting and lying down with the student’s back on the floor. She denied restraining or placing the student in a prone position and denied admitting a restraint to the student’s parents. The principal and school resource officer called the parents the same day as the investigation and explained their conclusion that no physical restraint had occurred. The district did not improperly utilize physical restraint with a student with a disability.
This concludes our review of this complaint. This decision is final for the IDEA State Complaint process. These issues may be addressed through other dispute resolutions, including mediation and due process hearings. For more information, visit the department’s website at http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/dispute-resolution or contact the special education team at (608) 266-1781.