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Physical Management in Classrooms Should Be a Last Resort

De-escalation strategies should always be the first approach.

Key points

  • Preventing situations in classrooms from getting to the point where physical management is necessary is a primary goal.
  • Physical management procedures should only be used when there are no safe alternatives and the threat of physical harm to others exists.
  • Respect and dignity for the agitated student is paramount.

The news has been filled with stories about teachers using physical restraint in the classroom and, unfortunately, there have been many instances where force was used needlessly, incorrectly, or in an unsafe way. Very often, emotions take over, situations quickly escalate, and in a matter of seconds what should have been a minor, non-physical incident turns into something more.

It is of critical importance teachers and staff clearly understand the overarching goal is always to prevent situations from escalating to a point where physical management is needed. Teachers should be properly trained in de-escalation strategies, tactics to manage behavioral challenges, and ways in which to create safe and calm environments. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, and school districts should provide teachers with the tools necessary to keep their classrooms safe and avoid any sort of physical interaction between teacher and student.

Physical management procedures should only be used when there is no other safe alternative and there is a real and definite threat of physical harm to the teacher, other students, or a chance the agitated student may physically harm themselves. In those instances, physical management procedures should only be used when necessary for the physical safety of others and with the utmost care for the safety, well-being, and dignity of the agitated student. Physical management procedures should never be used for convenience, as punishment, or because other methods are taking too long.

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

When physical management is warranted, there are specific techniques that can be used to address a variety of situations. These techniques are designed to eliminate or minimize physical harm as well as maintain a level of respect and dignity for the agitated student and everyone else involved. Schools should have teams of teachers who receive proper training and instruction in the use of these techniques and are able to respond when needed. A teacher who has not had such training should be able to quickly access assistance so that, in the event of a serious incident, properly trained staff can respond.

Understanding risk factors

There are several risks that need to be considered before using physical management. These risks are both physical and psychological. Physical risks include everything from cuts and scrapes to head trauma and seizures. Psychological risks include trauma to the agitated student who may have experienced past incidents of violence or abuse. In some instances, being physically restrained may reinforce the agitated student’s dangerous behavior and further exacerbate the situation or increase the chance of future incidents.

Criteria for using physical management

Physical management techniques should not be used for disruptive behavior, but rather only when that behavior becomes dangerous and there are no other safe alternatives. As a general guideline, there should be:

  • Imminent risk of serious physical harm to the agitated student or others.
  • No other way to prevent harm without physical management.
  • Not intervening will cause greater harm than intervening.
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
Source: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Special circumstances

Some students may have conditions that would preclude the use of certain or all physical management techniques. Teachers and administrators need to be aware of these conditions before the need arises for any possible physical management of that student. Medical conditions, such as asthma, recent injuries or surgeries, or the use of certain medications might put the student at an increased risk for harm. The student may also have mental health challenges, such as a history of abuse or trauma. In these instances, the use of physical management could be triggering to the student and instead of de-escalating the situation, the student may become increasingly agitated.

Throughout the entire process, the well-being of the agitated student must be a primary consideration.