When are restraints allowed under Pennsylvania law?

22 Pa. Code Chapter 14.133 provides for the limited circumstances under which restraints are aloud to be used in Pennsylvania.

Restraints to control acute of episodic aggressive or self-injurious behavior may be used only when the student is acting in a manner as to be a clear and present danger to himself, to other students or to employees, and only when less restrictive measures and techniques have proven to be or are less effective.

The use of restraints may not be included in an IEP for convenience of the staff or employed as a punishment. Prone restraints are never allowed in educational programs. Prone restraints are those which the student in held face down to the floor.  Districts are also not allowed to use techniques which include locked doors or other structures which the student cannot readily exit, treatment in a demeaning nature, or corporal punishment. Mechanical restraints are only allowed to help a child with a physical need such as balancing or sitting up in a chair.

What must the school do when they use a legal restraint?

When a restraint allowed by law is used to control aggressive behavior Pennsylvania law requires that the school should notify the parent of the use of restraint and convene a meeting of an IEP team meeting within 10 school days of the behavior that resulted in restraint, unless the parent agrees in writing to waive the meeting.

At the meeting the IEP team should consider whether the child requires a functional behavior assessment, reevaluation, a new or revised positive behavior support plan, or change in placement to address the behavior.

The school must also keep record of all instances restraint use.

What happens if the school does not follow these guidelines?

A school’s failure to follow these guidelines could possibly result in civil liability by the school district. Legal results can vary greatly depending on the specific facts of the case. Generally, the facts need to be extreme for a parent to succeed in obtaining monetary damages.

Case 1[1] – From 2001-2003 a teacher in Abington Heights SD secluded, restrained, and abused several special education students from ages 5 to 11 in a windowless basement classroom. The teacher tied the students to Rifton chairs as punishment and left students tied to chairs even after the chairs fell over. Teacher also crushed students fingers, squeezed their faces, physically struck students, and withheld food from students as punishment. 11 students filed suit and the District offered a settlement of $5 million as settlement but would admit no wrong doing.

Case 2 – A 14 year old was attending private school at a residential treatment center in Pennsylvania. Student was restrained by a counselor face down on the ground and struggled for 20 minutes to free himself before losing consciousness. The student died a day later as a result of the brain injuries sustained from lack of oxygen while being restrained. The coroner ruled the deaths accidental and no criminal charges were filed. Parent filed civil action and settled for over $1 million.

Case 3 – Student, 15, who is non-verbal, was locked in a room with the walls and windows covered in plywood. The room contained no tables or other furnishings. Student was put in a thermally insulated jumpsuit with a zipper pinned and duct taped shut, so he could not remove his clothing. The room was kept at a high temperature. Parent found student locked in this room smelling of feces and urine documented the events with his cell phone camera and brought civil action. The District settled for an undisclosed amount two years later.

There have also been cases where students have been handcuffed by SROs (School Resource Officers). This is almost never a proper use of physical restraints and if your child has been handcuffed in school you consult with an attorney immediately.

Use of Restraints as a Denial of FAPE

Though the cases that result in monetary damages are rare this does not mean that a parent should not pursue a claim against a school district using restraints on their child. The use of restraints can certainly be considered a denial of a FAPE, which could result in compensatory education awarded to the student and positive changes to the student’s education plan.

restraints in school
Restraints in School

In any event, an attorney experienced in education law can determine the remedies that are possibly available after review of the facts of each specific case involving restraint of a student.
[1] Vicky M. and Darin M. v. Ne. Educ. Intermediate Unit 19, 486 F.Supp.2d 437 (M.D. Pa. 2007) and related cases.


Please note that nothing on this post or on this website should be taken as legal advice. If you would like to get more information regarding restraints in school or you believe your child may have been improperly restrained or handcuffed in class or in school, please contact at attorney at Montgomery Law today.

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