Using Physical Restraints on Students
Safety holds use physical restraint to restrict students’ freedom of movement when students pose an imminent and serious physical threat to themselves or others. When used correctly, the holds diffuse potentially dangerous situations, such as students’ attempts to use a weapon or otherwise injure themselves or others, some experts say.
However, safety holds are under serious scrutiny. Several years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study that analyzed reports of abuse or death stemming from these holds. GAO found that blocking a child’s air passages or otherwise restricting airflow, such as putting undue or prolonged pressure on the chest, could be deadly. Other studies noted the potential for psychological trauma, given the humiliating nature of the holds, and for an administrator to be physically harmed while restraining a student.
The following recommendations can help your K-12 school use holds effectively and minimize potential harm.
Follow These Best Practices Involving Holds
- Use holds only after all prior attempts to de-escalate the situation fail.
- Never use holds as punishment.
- Ensure that only officials trained in the use of holds administer them ─ and that the holds use the minimum force necessary.
- Conduct holds with another adult present.
- Ensure the nurse examines the student for signs of injury.
- Have the official who administered the hold inform the head of school as soon as possible and document the incident in writing.
- Require the head of school or other high-ranking official inform the parents immediately.
- Discuss the situation with the student and explain the reason the hold was used.
Review Your Policy on Safety Holds
Understand state legal requirements and ensure your safety holds policy:
- States its goals and clearly defines behaviors that would permit the use of holds
- Describes the types of restraints allowed and dictates training requirements for administrators
- Delineates reporting requirements to parents, head of school, and health center, or as required by state law
Ensure all staff, including volunteers and substitute teachers, are aware of your policy.
About the Author
Alyssa Keehan, Esq.
CPCU, ARM, Director of Risk Management Research & Consulting
Alyssa oversees the development of UE’s risk management content and consulting initiatives, ensuring reliable and trustworthy guidance for our members. Her areas of expertise include campus sexual misconduct, Title IX, threat assessment, campus security, contracts, and risk transfer. She previously handled UE liability claims and held positions in the fields of education and insurance.