Skip to main content.

Is locking kids in a closet an effective behavior management technique?

Is locking kids in a closet an effective behavior management technique?

Picture of Jane  Adams
Locked seclusion room in Los Angeles school for special education students
Locked seclusion room

One special education student was tied to his wheelchair and locked inside a van for most of the day. A student with post-traumatic stress was locked in a small room with no light three hours a day. And another special ed student refused to complete his assignment and had his arm twisted behind his back by his teacher, causing a sprain.

Read about the projects of other 2014 California Health Journalism Fellows.

These were some of the findings of an investigation on discipline practices in special education classrooms in California, conducted by the federally funded watchdog group Disability Rights California. Published in 2007, the findings are the most recent published investigation of the use of physical and mechanical restraints, as well as seclusion rooms, on California students.

When I came across the report, I had never heard of these practices, which are illegal except in emergency behavior situations. I learned that of the students who are restrained or secluded nationwide, 70 percent are in special education, according to the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. And of students who are restrained by mechanical means, such as belts or duct tape, 44 percent are African American.

Teaching children with severe disabilities is challenging work, and teacher unions and school administrator associations say that seclusion and restraint, properly implemented, are necessary tools in their classroom management strategies. In a 2012 report, the American Association of School Administrators stated that it is “unrealistic” to assume students with disabilities will respond to “nonviolent crisis interventions” as successfully as general education students.

My project will investigate how behavioral approaches are evolving for special education students, who make up one in 10 California students. What are the legal guidelines for these practices and who is monitoring their use? How often is seclusion and restraint used on special education students? Are these practices effective?


Picture of

Using brutal methods may "work" in the moment, but are ultimately ineffective---using violence or physical restraints may for e compliance, but it will teach aggression.

Leave A Comment


The USC Center for Health Journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is seeking two Engagement Editors to serve as thought leaders in one of the most innovative and rewarding arenas in journalism today – “engaged reporting” that puts the community at the center of the reporting process. Learn more about the positions and apply to join our team.

Let us support your next ambitious health reporting project through our National Fellowship program. Apply today.

Nowhere was the massive COVID wave of winter 2021 more devastating than in America’s nursing homes, where 71,000 residents died in the surge. In this webinar, we’ll hear from the lead reporter in the USA Today series "Dying for Care," who will show how an original data analysis and an exhaustive reporting effort revealed a pattern of unnecessary deaths that compounded the pandemic’s brutal toll. Sign-up here!


Follow Us



CHJ Icon