Restraint in the Shadows

Oversight of private special education schools begins at Oakland Unified

Published August 18, 2016

Oakland Unified is facing compliance deadlines to prove it is monitoring students at private special education schools.


Federal investigators cite harsh discipline in special education at Bay Area school

Published August 4, 2016

The investigation concluded that the district violated federal education and disability law.



Tobinworld closing its Antioch school for special education students

Published July 8, 2016

An Antioch special education school is closing after the Oakland Unified and Antioch Unified school districts removed students and withdrew funding for the school. The districts’ actions came in the aftermath of investigations by state and law enforcement agencies into several allegations against Tobinworld II, a nonprofit special education school that serves students ages 5 to 22 with autism, emotional disturbances, developmental disabilities and learning… read more



Discipline in private special education schools under investigation by California attorney general

Published June 9, 2016

Officials examining Tobinworld and other schools in California.



Advocates demand state end improper use of force on special ed students

Published January 15, 2016

The letter was sent after a 9-year-old was slapped by a teacher’s aide.


Video of alleged abuse prompts state investigation of special education school

Published January 7, 2016

The state investigates allegations of abuse at Antioch special education school.



Controversial psychologist found working at special ed schools

Published August 27, 2015

The state suspends certification for two Tobinworld schools.


Green lawns and trees, a staff member and a student

Inconsistent training leaves special education staff struggling

Published April 20, 2015

The least-trained staff often are involved in restraining students.


Little oversight of restraint practices in special education

Published April 19, 2015

California Department of Education no longer required to collect data on reported incidents.


Examining SELPA reports on seclusion and restraint

Published April 19, 2015

Edsource created easy-to-read downloadable data cards for most of California’s Special Education Local Plan Areas.


Seven charts that put restraint and seclusion in context

Published April 19, 2015

Limited data and inconsistent reporting makes it difficult to understand what is happening on the ground.


A history of restraint and seclusion in California

Reports: Behavioral emergencies at schools

Types of Restraint

There are different methods of restraining students. Below is a graphic that shows a few of the common restraints used by school staff.

By Alberto Cario. Courtesy of ProPublica

Data Methodology

This EdSource Today report was based on information obtained through public records requests submitted to 23 regional agencies in California known as Special Education Local Plan Areas, which oversee special education in public schools and in private schools that operate with public funds under contracts with school districts.

The record requests asked for copies of behavioral emergency reports, which schools are required to file each time a staff member decides a student’s behavior warrants an extreme emergency response, including physically restraining students or isolating them in a room they can’t leave, known as seclusion. Students’ names and other identifying information were redacted.

Behavioral emergency reports are narrative accounts written by special education staff that describe, step-by-step, the interactions they had with a student during an incident, including:

  • When and where an incident occurred;
  • What led up to an intervention;
  • How staff deescalated the situation;
  • Whether restraint or seclusion were used;
  • And if restraint or seclusion were used, the total number of minutes the techniques were used.

EdSource Today selected the 23 Special Education Local Plan Areas for public records review – from approximately 124 local plan areas in the state in 2011-12 – because they had high ratios of seclusion and restraint incidents relative to the number of special education students, according to the watchdog group Disability Rights California.

Eleven Special Education Local Plan Areas refused to provide the emergency reports or failed to respond to the request. Those Special Education Local Plan Areas are: Elk Grove, Folsom Cordova, Long Beach, Mt. Diablo, North Region Alameda County, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Solano, Stockton and Tri-Valley.

Twelve Special Education Local Plan Areas provided redacted reports of individual incidents or summary totals by school sites. Those Special Education Local Plan Areas are: Contra Costa, Mid-Alameda County, Modoc County, North Santa Cruz County, Orange, Poway, Riverside County, Sacramento City, San Juan, Sonoma County, Tahoe-Alpine and Tri-City.

In analyzing the data, EdSource Today omitted reports that were missing information. The analysis was based on a total of 696 reports.