With updated federal guidelines on the limited use of seclusion and restraint for students with disabilities, student transporters need to communicate the use of child safety restraint systems (CSRS), to avoid confusion when applying them for Individualized Education Programs (IEP).
The Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter on Dec. 28 that highlighted how the seclusion and restriction of students with disabilities may result in discrimination against them, which could be violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It should be noted that seclusion and restraint—placing the student alone in a room or inhibiting their ability to move freely—is more often applied to students in the classroom setting.
The U.S. Department of Education has required since 2009 that all states have policies in place for handling seclusion and restraint in schools. But during the 2013-2014 school year, OCR said 100,000 students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement, and 69,000 were physically restrained.
If not correctly applied and communicated, student transporters could find themselves in hot water when using CSRS designed to keep students safe during transportation. The definition of seclusion and restraint could be confused with the use of age- and weight-appropriate CSRS during transportation services, as was the case with a U.S. Senate Bill introduced in 2011 that was introduced, but was not enacted.
Linda Bluth, a special needs transportation policy expert and a past president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, said student transporters should clearly define and communicate to parents how and why the CSRS will be used. Transporters also need to communicate how the safety equipment differs from the practice of seclusion and restraint. In addition, Bluth said the use of CSRS must be made on a case-by-case basis in the section on related transportation services of a student’s IEP.
While there have been cases of student transporters using the practices as either punishment or to prevent a student from injuring him or herself and others, Bluth said those incidents are rare and have usually involved school bus drivers or attendants acting outside the purview of management and training standards.