Practice of Restraining and Isolating Special Needs Students Challenged

Contact: Lisa Odendaal



State Wide Increase of Students with Special Needs,

Nearly 14% of the state’s population in Inland Southern California Communities

Practice of Restraining and Isolating Special Needs Students Challenged


(ONTARIO, Calif. June 15, 2017)  Most parents would be shocked and infuriated to learn that their child is physically restrained or secluded alone in a room at any point during their day in a California public school. But that is exactly what is happening to many students on a regular basis, according to Dr. Melaura Erickson-Tomaino and Dr. Edward Miguel, co-founders of Port View Preparatory School® which caters to the unique needs of K-22 students with developmental disabilities in Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.


Last month Education Week reported that one out of every 100 special education students was restrained or secluded in the 2013-14 school year, indicating that nearly 70,000 special education students experienced the same treatment that school year. The article states the numbers are, “almost surely, dramatically understated.”


Particularly concerning is the routinely used practice of prone restraint, considered the most dangerous technique in which two or more staff members force a student facedown on the floor with all four of the child’s limbs immobilized. The weight of adults on a child held in a prone restraint can block a child’s airway and creates an additional hazard.


“Restraint and seclusion are punitive measures that inspire fear and distress. Rather, we want students to be empowered and find success with alternative strategies such as modifying the environment, tolerance training, coping methods to reduce anxiety, stress, and anger, and functional communication training. By focusing on teaching alternative responses, we allow our students to express their needs while growing towards their true potential” says Dr. Erickson-Tomaino.


Who are these students? Among the more than six million students attending California public schools, some 3.9% have been identified as developmentally disabled.*


Further legal definition requires that an individual be substantially impaired or limited by the disability, and have significant functional limitations in three or more of the following major life areas: self-care; expressive or receptive language; learning; mobility; capacity for independent living; economic self-sufficiency; or self-direction.


Most of these students are taught in special education programs within a public school, but almost one-half are not, due to challenging behaviors that preclude them from participating in a standard public school environment.  There is also a lack of acceptable, substantial educational progress.  Because the State is committed to providing an education to all students, many local school districts turn to what are known as “non-public” schools to accommodate these students.


Port View Preparatory® is among the more than 360 of these schools in the state grappling with the controversial issue of how to best deal with the most challenging students when physically threatening behavior occurs. The school sets itself apart from the majority of the others by its uncommon approach. Port View Prep’s alternative evidenced-based methods, combined with giving students access to common programs offered at other schools such as a student government, prom, CrosssFit® or yoga classes, are geared towards creating a safe environment with emphasis on respect and dignity. The Port View Prep focus is student first, disability second™.


With over 100,000 students with special needs residing in Riverside and San Bernardino County, Port View Prep just opened a second campus in Ontario last month.


Physically restraining or isolating special education students is allowed under Chapter 5.5 of the California Education Code as an emergency intervention. Yet it has become a common solution in public and non-public schools, which are funded by the school districts and taxpayer dollars. Both public and non-public schools are required to file behavioral emergency reports each time a restraint or seclusion incident takes place. In 2011-2012, non-public schools submitted an astronomical 14,492 behavioral emergency reports.**


Based on their work at Port View Preparatory, Dr. Miguel and Dr. Erickson-Tomaino were invited by the California Department of Education (CDE) to participate in four workshops as part of CDE’s Nonpublic Schools and Agencies Positive Behavioral Support Program and Interventions Workgroup as part of an effort to discover better and safer approaches to managing challenging behavior. The two presented in January sharing their experiences in working with students with disabilities using flexible and individualized interventions that inspire students to thrive and meet their full potential.

Dr. Miguel is realistic about people’s reluctance to accept the higher demands in taking this path. “This change will not be immediate, and it will be ongoing. It will require a new understanding of the role of the special educator as someone that has the mental and physical ability to get hit and still educate, get bit and still nurture, and to rid themselves entirely of the notion that restraint and seclusion are ever an option,” he says.



About Port View Preparatory® School:

Port View Preparatory Schools are non-public for students K-22 with special needs. The Orange County and San Bernardino County based campuses offer small class sizes, high teacher-to-student ratios, applied behavior analysis, speech-language and occupational therapies, the PEERS program, social skills training, vocational education, career development, community integration and fitness programs. Apple products are used and top-of-the-line student transportation provided. Port View Preparatory charts educational opportunities® for students to fulfill their potential. For more information visit




*The report’s authors, Haleigh Mager-Maradeusz and Dr. Gerald F. Kominski, noted that this figure was based on methods used by the State Council on Developmental Disabilities. The 2015 California population estimate was multiplied by the Gollay and Associate national prevalence estimate of 1.8 percent. .**  **, Little Oversight of Restraint Practices in Special Education by Jane Meredith Adams, published April 19, 2015.