Excessive Force and Students with Disabilities: Legal and Practice Considerations

Academic Article


  • Objectives: Examine pertinent case law involving the use of “excessive force” with children and youth with disabilities. In addition, legal implications for school personnel, based on these rulings, will be discussed and alternatives to using force will be explored. Methods: One-hundred thirty cases from the Special Ed Connection database were included for review and examined for the purpose of identifying patterns in special education litigation of “excessive force” spanning 1997 to May 2018. Results: The majority of the cases were heard in states covered by the 11th circuit (24 cases); autism was the most prevalent category involved (36 cases); the majority of cases were brought before the court for excessive force under the 14th Amendment (92 cases); and schools were the prevailing party for 60% of cases while a total of 92 cases were decided under the 14th Amendment. Conclusions: Case law typically examined whether the force applied was proportionate to the incident at hand; presence of injury; and whether the force used served a pedagogical purpose or was arbitrarily punitive in nature. Means to reduce the use of force may include frameworks like PBIS and Ci3T, and the use of restorative practices, staff training in verbal de-escalation, and the use of explicit instruction to teach conflict resolution skills are highly recommended.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Katsiyannis A; Counts J; Adams S; Ennis RP
  • Start Page

  • 885
  • End Page

  • 893
  • Volume

  • 28
  • Issue

  • 4