Certain types of restraint and seclusion would be banned and any use of the practices would be reported to parents and the public under legislation introduced in Congress Wednesday.
While administered under the guise of discipline, a government report earlier this year found that in hundreds of cases restraint and seclusion tactics used in schools amounted to abuse and even became deadly in some instances. Most students subjected to the allegedly abusive tactics were students with disabilities.
The proposed legislation would create the first ever federal oversight of seclusion and restraint tactics in schools. Under the bill, future use of restraint and seclusion would be limited to situations in which there is imminent danger and when it is administered by a trained staff member. Any restraint that restricts breathing and the use of mechanical restraints — such as strapping a student to a chair — would be banned. School staff also could not use medication to control behaviors unless it is in accordance with a doctor’s prescription.
Also under the new bill, schools would be prohibited from including restraint and seclusion as a planned behavior management method in a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) and schools would be required to tell parents if any form of restraint or seclusion is used.
Meanwhile, the bill calls on states to beef up training and improve data collection on restraint and seclusion. Such data would be made public. States would also be required to develop their own policies to come into compliance with the new federal rules.
“We’ve set the minimum. What we would like is that the states and the schools come up with a policy that’s equal to or better,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who introduced the measure in the House of Representatives along with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
Swift passage of the bill is a top priority to parents like Nicole and Alan Holden whose son Ethan spent three hours each day strapped into a chair in his Muskegon, Mich. preschool classroom last year. Ethan, 4, has autism and a speech delay and was unable to tell his parents what was going on. Nicole Holden only found out when she attended a class holiday party where her son sat tied to a chair.
“It was literally torture,” she says.
Miller said that he hopes to have hearings on the proposed bill at the beginning of 2010 and said quick passage is crucial to end what he calls a “nightmare of abuse.”
“I think we owe it to the children to consider effectiveness and speed at this point,” he said.