Associate, Sarah Tornetta discusses a recent New Jersey law that establishes requirements for school districts when using physical restraints and seclusion techniques.
On January 9, 2018, New Jersey enacted a new law, P.L. B1163/A501, that establishes requirements for school districts when using physical restraints and seclusion techniques on students with disabilities. The law raises new questions and concerns for school districts regarding the use of designated spaces where students are sent to calm down, such as “cool off rooms” or “quiet rooms.”
A physical restraint is “the use of a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move all or a portion of his or her body” and a seclusion technique is “the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. Importantly, the law permits the use of timeouts, defined as “a behavior management technique that involves the monitored separation of a student in a non-locked setting, and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”
School districts must adhere to the following requirements when using physical restraints and/or seclusion techniques:
- Only to be used in emergencies, when the student exhibits behaviors that place the student or others in immediate physical danger.
- Must immediately notify the student’s parent(s) (by phone or electronics) when a physical restraint is used.
- Must document each incident and give a full written report to the parent(s) within 48 hours of the incident.
- School boards must select a qualified entity to provide annual training to staff and develop a board policy in conjunction with the training entity setting forth proper procedures when using these techniques.
- Schools must implement a review process to ensure the proper use of these techniques. The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) is expected to publish guidelines for schools on compliance with the review process.
So, is a “quiet room” permissible in light of these requirements? Absent further clarification by the NJDOE, the answer likely depends on how exactly school districts are using these rooms. For example, a roomy, unlocked space that implements calming strategies and is under adult supervision may more closely resemble a timeout than a seclusion.
However, these spaces can easily cross the line to look like seclusion rooms, placing schools at risk of violating the law. Schools must therefore proceed with caution. For more information and guidance on this topic, please contact the attorneys in Parker McCay’s Public Schools and Education Department.
The content of this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion. You should consult a lawyer concerning your specific situation and any specific legal question you may have.