Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 885–893 | Cite as

Excessive Force and Students with Disabilities: Legal and Practice Considerations

  • Antonis Katsiyannis
  • Jennifer CountsEmail author
  • Simone Adams
  • Robin Parks Ennis
Review Paper



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.


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.


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.


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.


Excessive force Public schools Discipline Litigation Prevention 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clemson UniversityClemsonUSA
  2. 2.Clemson UniversityClemsonUSA
  3. 3.Clemson UniversityClemsonUSA
  4. 4.University of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA

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