Know Your Rights: Restraint and Seclusion in School

If you believe a student’s rights have been violated, you can contact us to speak with an attorney free of charge. 

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Students with disabilities, including those who have emotional, behavioral, or communication challenges, are more likely to be restrained or secluded than other students.

All students deserve a learning environment that is safe and welcoming. The use of restraint and seclusion places children at risk of physical and emotional harm. Restraining or secluding a student can traumatize or injure the student as well as the staff who are involved. Since both restraint and seclusion can be harmful and even fatal, New Hampshire law limits their use in schools.

What is Restraint?

A restraint occurs when a person uses their body or a device in a way that immobilizes or otherwise prevents a student from moving their torso, head, arms, or legs. Restraint does not include briefly touching or holding a student to calm or comfort them, certain physical escorts, seat belts, or certain medical devices.

What is seclusion?

Seclusion occurs when:

  • A student is involuntarily placed in a location where they are alone and from which they are unable to exit, due to a lock, other device, or physical manipulation by a person (such as holding the door shut).
  • A student is involuntarily placed in a location where they are alone and from which the child ‘reasonably believes’ they are not free to leave.
  • A student is involuntarily confined to a room or other area, separate from their peers, with one or more adults who are preventing them from leaving and not engaging in a therapeutic intervention.

When IS restraint or seclusion allowed?

  • Restraint and seclusion can only be used by trained personnel in situations when necessary to prevent injury to the student or to someone else.
  • Restraint can only be used in an emergency. Under the law, an emergency is when there is a “substantial and imminent risk of serious bodily harm” to the student or another person. Restraint is allowed only “when all other interventions have failed or have been deemed inappropriate.”
  • Seclusion may only be used when there is a “substantial and imminent risk of physical harm” to the child or others. Seclusion is allowed only after attempting other approaches to control the student’s behavior, or if trained personnel have determined that, based on the history of actual attempts to control a particular child’s behavior, that alternative approaches to control the student’s behavior
    are unlikely to succeed.

Every school is required to have written policies and procedures for managing student behavior. These policies must describe how and when the school will use restraint and seclusion. Schools must provide these policies and procedures to each student’s parents, guardians, or legal representatives.

When is restraint or seclusion NOT allowed?

  • Neither restraint nor seclusion can be used to punish or discipline a student.
  • Intentionally ridiculing, humiliating, or causing emotional trauma is not allowed.
  • The use of unpleasant substances to punish or control a student is also banned.
  • It is illegal to use dangerous restraint techniques, such as prone restraint, that obstruct the student’s breathing or circulation, or compress their chest, lungs, sternum, diaphragm, back or abdomen, or cover their face or body with anything.
  • Mechanical restraints like zip-ties, handcuffs, and straps are not allowed.
  • Medicinal restraints like giving a student a sedative or other medication without a medical provider’s prescription, are also illegal.

Additional limitations on the use of restraint and seclusion


  • A student may not be restrained for more than 15 minutes unless approved by a supervisor or director.
  • A school official may not restrain a student for more than 30 minutes without the school director or trained supervisor completing a face-to-face assessment of the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the student to determine if the restraint is being conducted safely and for an authorized purpose.


  • When a school secludes a student, it is required to designate a “co-regulator” to monitor the student, help the student regain their composure, and return to a less restrictive setting. Co-regulators shall be selected and designated in the following order of preference:
    • A trusted adult selected by the student.
    • A clinician or counselor trained in trauma informed practices.
    • A staff member known to have a positive relationship with the child.
    • A staff member who was not involved in the incident leading to seclusion.
  • Any room used for secluding a student must have adequate heating, cooling, lighting, ventilation, and a ceiling as high as other rooms in the building. The student must be observed continually. If the room is locked, there must be a way for the student to escape if there is a fire or other emergency.

What MUST a school do if it restrains or secludes a student?

Verbal Notification: Schools are required to verbally notify the parents or guardian of any restraint, seclusion, or intentional physical contact in response to a student’s behavior as soon as practically possible. The notification must occur before the end of the business day or before the child returns to the parent or guardian.

Written Report: The school must write a report describing the incident within five business days and send it to the parent or guardian within an additional two business days, unless there is a court order against notification.

Plan Review: The first time a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan is restrained or secluded, the school must review the student’s education program or plan and adjust it to eliminate or reduce the future use of restraint or seclusion. If the student is subjected to multiple instances of restraint or seclusion following the school’s review, at the parent’s request, the school district must conduct an additional review meeting. Parents should be involved in these review meetings.

An alternative to restraint and seclusion

Restraint and seclusion are rarely necessary to control a student’s behavior or effective in preventing challenging behaviors in the future. Instead, schools should address the causes of behavioral problems and use proven strategies like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to de-escalate these situations.

If you believe a student’s rights have been violated, you can:

  • Request an IEP team or 504 plan meeting to discuss the student’s challenging behaviors, and to develop a plan to address them.
  • File a complaint with the NH Department of Education with the Commissioner’s Office. You can find specific contact information at
  • Contact DRC-NH for more information or to speak with an attorney free of charge:
    • Phone: (603) 228-0432
    • Email:
    • Website:

If a student has been assaulted or harmed, file a complaint with the police department or talk with a lawyer.

Additional Resources


We provide information, advice, and legal representation in several areas involving children’s education including special education, school discipline and the unlawful use of restraint and seclusion.


Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers for people with disabilities across New Hampshire. DRC is the federally designated protection and advocacy agency for New Hampshire and has authority under federal law to conduct investigations in cases of probable abuse or neglect.

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