Illinois to allow prone restraints in schools next year

Illinois schools will be allowed to restrain challenging students by physically holding them face-down on the floor during the next academic year under a deal that the State Board of Education reached with a key legislative rule-making committee.

The decision comes after an emergency ban on what are called prone restraints is set to expire this month. That ban was instituted after a joint Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois investigation on the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.

Some small schools had objected to the ban, saying the use of prone restraints can help challenging students calm down. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan panel made up of 12 lawmakers that reviews new and existing rules proposed by state agencies, have to approve any permanent rules.

The State Board of Education reached a deal with the committee that allows prone restraints to be used during the next academic year, with the goal of phasing it out by July 2021.

“ISBE absolutely will revisit the use of prone restraint either through legislation or future rulemaking before the one year-extension expires,” State Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews wrote in an email to the Chicago Tribune.

Pending legislation could still ban the practice and would supercede the joint committee’s decision.

The ProPublica Illinois-Tribune investigation documented more than more than 35,000 seclusion and restraint incidents involving students in 100 school districts over a 15-month period. Although state law allowed seclusion and restraint when students were in danger of harming themselves or others, the investigation found that one out of every three incidents did not cite a safety reason.

While prone restraint will be allowed next school year, the Board of Education told school officials in an email that they should “actively pursue” alternatives and training.

Heather Calomese, the agency’s executive director of programs, said prone restraint is too dangerous to use. The safety risk to both staff and students is too high. Staff members “could potentially block an airway. They could put pressure on a part of a body that would restrict airflow,” she said.