Sad but true, every school day children across America are being subjected to abusive and potentially deadly restraints and seclusions in schools, often by poorly trained or completely untrained staff. From the nine-year-old child who was repeatedly secluded in a room for hours at a time for whistling, slouching, and hand waving, to the seventeen-year-old student who died from an asthma attack while being restrained, these practices demonstrate the need for meaningful protections for schoolchildren. The Keeping All Students Safe Act, presently working its way through Congress, would for the first time put in place effective federal minimum safety standards to protect schoolchildren from these dangerous practices, while providing school personnel with training and support to better protect students and school staff.
Unfortunately, the inappropriate use of restraints and seclusions in America’s schools is tragically still fairly common. Back in 2009, California Congressman George Miller requested that the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) conduct an investigation into allegations of death and abuse from the use of restraints and seclusions in schools. The GAO report revealed hundreds of cases of alleged death or abuse reported nation-wide as a result of these methods in just the two decades prior to the publication of the report. Almost all of these cases involved young children with disabilities, some as young as three and four-years-old. Several cases resulted in the student’s death when the restraint prevented the child from being able to breathe, such as when a 230 pound teacher in Texas placed a 129 pound child face down on the floor and lay on top of him because the child would not stay seated during class, thus ending the poor child’s life.
In California, restraints and seclusions are frequently used as behavioral interventions. The GAO investigation revealed that during the 2007-2008 school year alone, California reported 14,354 instances of students being subjected to restraint, seclusion, or other undefined “emergency interventions” in schools. The report found no federal laws related to the use of these methods in schools and widely varying laws at the state level. In fact, the relevant laws in California are more comprehensive than in most states and now disallow usage of restraints except in emergency sitautions.
In response to the GAO report, in 2009, Congressman Miller introduced The Keeping All Students Safe Act, which passed with bipartisan support in the House, but it failed to pass in the Senate. The need to pass this important legislation persists. In a speech on the floor of the House in April of 2011, Congressman Miller urged Congress to pass the Keeping All Students Safe Act saying, “The investigations and news reports about harmful restraints and seclusions show children being tied up with duct tape, sat on by untrained staff, locked in rooms for hours at a time—this behavior looks like torture. This legislation makes it very clear that there is no room for torture and abuse in America’s schools.”
The Keeping All Students Safe Act was most recently introduced to the 114th Congress on February 12, 2015 by Congressman Donald Beyer of Virginia. It was referred to a congressional subcommittee where it presently languishes.
Evidence supporting the need for the legislation continues to mount. In May of 2013, the U.S. Department of Education issued a report indicating that restraints and seclusions are dangerous, no evidence supports their effectiveness in reducing the occurrence of problematic behavior and that these methods should never be used except when a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of physical harm to the child or others.
This badly needed legislation would require school staff who apply restraints to obtain thorough training and certification. When implementing a restraint, staff would be allowed to use only the amount of force necessary to protect the student or others from threatened injury. Certain kinds of restraints, such as those that are life threating because they restrict breathing, would be prohibited. In summary, all physical restraints could only be used in emergency situations when a student’s behavior posed imminent danger of physical injury to the student, school personnel, or others.
Please contact our legislators to urge expeditious passage of the Keeping All Students Safe Act. We should not rest until this important legislation is passed to provide a sensible standard of protection from harmful restrains and seclusions for all of America’s schoolchildren.
If your own child has behavior problems in school, make sure that he or she receives appropriate supports so as to endeavor to preclue the imposition of restraints by school staff.
Martha Millar is a special education attorney. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 530-273-2740..
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