We have a real problem in Maine. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, Maine restrains more students per capita than any other state and secludes students at the second highest rate in the country.

At least 90 percent of seclusions and restraints in Maine involve students with disabilities. And we are going in the wrong direction. During the 2020-21 school year, which was shortened due to the pandemic, Maine schools reported using 17,262 restraints, an all-time high. Unfortunately, because of underreporting, the actual numbers are likely even higher.

Seclusion and restraint are harmful and ineffective. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education wrote that the use of restraint and seclusion can have very serious consequences, including, most tragically, death. The department also stated that there is no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective in reducing the occurrence of problem behaviors.

In a March letter to congressional leadership urging national action, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and 16 other attorneys general wrote that seclusion and restraint are “inherently dangerous behavior interventions that have no therapeutic or educational value, may exacerbate existing mental health conditions, and can cause long lasting emotional trauma.”

We need to end the reliance on these dangerous and ineffective practices.

There is a bill before the Maine Legislature to address this problem. L.D. 1373, An Act to Keep All Maine Students Safe by Restricting the Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools, would limit the use of restraint to situations where a student’s behavior poses an imminent danger of serious physical injury to the student or others, prohibit particularly dangerous restraints, including prone restraint and restraints that are contraindicated by a student’s disability, and eliminate the use of seclusion.

L.D. 1373 is modeled after pending national legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and is in line with efforts to reduce the use of these dangerous and ineffective practices in other states.

Although these practices appear to have become normalized in a number of schools in Maine, restraining and secluding kids is not necessary or inevitable. Ross Greene, of the Portland-based organization Lives in the Balance, testified at the public hearing in support of L.D. 1373. He said that he is aware of no research indicating that restraint or seclusion is necessary for school safety. Instead, kids and staff are most likely to be injured when they are restrained.  He also made clear that there are many schools, dealing with equally difficult kids, that never use restraint and seclusion. Seclusion is already prohibited in youth-serving residential settings in Maine, as well as in schools in a growing number of states, including Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas.

By raising the threshold for the use of restraint in emergency interventions, preventing inherently dangerous restraint practices and eliminating the use of seclusion, L.D. 1373 will move Maine schools to adopt more comprehensive approaches focused on prevention that meet student needs and reduce challenging behaviors.

Maine schools are set to receive over $400 million in new federal funds to address the impacts of pandemic related educational disruptions. They could devote some of these resources to expand the use of preventative and evidence-based practices to meet students’ social, emotional and behavioral needs. The best emergency response is to do the work required to avoid an emergency in the first place.

The Maine Legislature should pass L.D. 1373 and implement the policy within two years to send a clear message to schools that they must work to eliminate the use of seclusion and reduce their reliance on restraint.

We can meet the needs of all students without resorting to these harmful and ineffective practices.


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