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School Restraint, Seclusion Bill Resurfaces In Congress

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There are renewed efforts in Congress this week to impose federal limits on the use of restraint and seclusion in special education, but it’s unclear how or when the issue might move forward.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., reintroduced legislation Wednesday that would prohibit restraint or seclusion in most school situations. The bill would also mandate that parents be notified if the practices are used on their child and it would disallow restraint or seclusion from being included in a student’s individualized education program, or IEP.

As chairman of the House education committee last year, Miller championed the same bill and it won approval from the full House. But the issue never came before the Senate and ultimately died after a coalition of disability advocacy groups that was working to support the measure split over disagreements stemming from proposed changes to the legislation.

The introduction of the new bill Wednesday came the same day the disability advocacy group TASH issued a report detailing media coverage of over 50 incidents of restraint and seclusion that have occurred since last spring.

The fate of the legislation this year remains unclear, however, under the Republican controlled House. The issue has been contentious from the start, with some education groups saying the federal proposal could jeopardize school safety. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion >>)

Miller comes to the table with a bipartisan group of 17 co-sponsors. But the current education committee chair, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., is not on board, making it unlikely that the bill will be considered soon.

“We all share the goal of protecting students,” wrote Alexandra Haynes Sollberger, Kline’s communication director for the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, in an e-mail. “However, Chairman Kline has long standing concerns with imposing a federal solution that fails to take into account the proactive initiatives being undertaken at the state and local level.”

Meanwhile, no companion bill exists in the Senate, but a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate education committee, says the senator is “working on a Senate strategy to address this very important issue.”

In the past, Harkin has indicated that he would like to see restraint and seclusion addressed within an upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

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Comments (6 Responses)

  1. clarkhd says:

    The thing that constantly disturbs me is how much we seem to be subject to the will of non-special educators and to non-educators – period. I have found enough misunderstanding of these issues among educators. I am very concerned about the child with autism who may not be able to have that all important break from the din of the classroom in a darkened room alone. Beyond that, what happens to the child who becomes highly agitated and very physically struggles to get away from others. How would this effect a facility such as the one in my community that serves children with the most severe forms of autism who require three adults to accompany them at all times. Children with less, but not so much less severe conditions are in our schools with other children and professionals with vastly less experience than these special people. This is not, it seems to me, a good situation for legislators to be dictating from afar. ‘Seems like trouble to me.

  2. AutismInRealLife.com says:

    As long as a seclusion room exists in a school, the potential for abuse of our children exists. I have written a few articles about seclusion and restraint after a principal in our local elementary school built and used a seclusion room without telling parents (for months). I can tell you for a fact that the child who he built the room for was seriously traumatized by what they did to him….as well as his family. I personally saw both rooms and they looked like concrete prison cells. It was beyond words and sickening that people, supposedly caring special educators, could have done this to this child. If a parent built a concrete, prison cell-like seclusion room in their home, they would likely be arrested for child abuse and go to jail….no matter what behaviors the child was exhibiting. Yet this archaic practice is allowed to continue in education.

    If schools have the money to build seclusion rooms, they should have the money to build sensory rooms/safe areas, have board certified behavior specialists on staff, perform FBAs and correctly implement Positive Behavior Support consistenty across all settings….all of which many schools do NOT do.

    In addition to causing children and families trauma, seclusion and restraint are not effecitive ways to modify behavior over the long term. In fact their use often increases behavior. We need a strong federal bill enacted which will protect our children from the abuse of seclusion, restraint and aversives now.

  3. Johannes says:

    Some kids need the quiet of a seclusion room and will continue to misbehave until they are taken there. I think that the use of quite rooms before the child escalates can be very appropriate and may decrease the use of restraints. The emphasis should be more on programming than on prohibitions. Too many students in special ed have to wait, for other students to finish. I would like to see more measurements of how much time of the students is wasted. When I was a special educator with 8 students and 1 assistant, I had 2 groups of two students and 4 students who were either way too high or too low to fit in any group. The challenge was to keep the other students engaged while doing individual or small group instruction. I had some students do craft programs so they would be engaged and not disrupt and so I could give quality instruction instead of disciplining.

  4. MominMaine says:

    This bill goes a long way to protecting our children. BUT, the definitions referring to Public Health Service Act 42 USC Sec. 290jj are based on residents in a hospital not students in a classroom! This bill needs to go the extra mile and update some of these definitions. Teachers, staff and parents need to see it all in black and white. “Physical restraint”, “seclusion” and “physical escort” are all emergency interventions! The current definition in this bill of “physical escort” almost sounds like a skip in the park with birds chirping! The definitions need to include that these are emergency interventions that should be reserved for controlling a student’s behavior that is dangerous and presents a serious risk of bodily injury or harm to that student or to others, or presents a risk of significant property damage. Reserved for emergencies when serious behavior cannot be controlled through other safe positive behavior interventions and crisis de-escalation. Should be done by trained staff only and is reserved for a means for establishing and maintaining safety. Local policies need these standards for their defintions. Just my humble opinion.

  5. MominMaine says:

    I wanted to add that This bill defines “seclusion” in a locked room? Many current state regs & policies already prohibit that. Here’s a suggestion for how comprehensive I think the definition needs to be.

    The term “seclusion” is defined as an emergency intervention by trained staff that removes a student involuntarily by “physical escort” to a designated “seclusion” room or area that isolates a student. “Seclusion” is reserved for controlling a student’s behavior that is dangerous and presents a serious risk of bodily injury or harm to that student or to others, or presents a risk of significant property damage. “Seclusion” is reserved for emergencies when serious behavior cannot be controlled through other safe positive behavior interventions and crisis de-escalation. The door is prohibited from being locked in a “seclusion” room but may be secured to prevent the student from leaving. The student must be monitored at all times and a “seclusion” emergency intervention ends as soon as the emergency ends. All “seclusion” rooms or areas must meet the standards specified in these rules. Staff involved in a “seclusion” emergency intervention must follow the standards specified in these rules. Refer to “seclusion” prohibitions specified in these rules.

  6. tamara56 says:

    My son was a victim of educators, special and non-special, who inapporpriately put him in a seclusion room that increased his behavior issues because of the stress it created. The reason educators have to be subject to the will of non-educators is because educators too often abuse children. It was incredible what the right positive behavior supports did for my son. If I had allowed the misuse of seclusion and restraint at the will of educators to continue, I am certain my son would have continued to be traumatized at their hands. Regulations are imperative.

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