Despite efforts to address restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities within an overhaul of the nation’s primary education law, the issue was left out when the U.S. Senate moved forward on a bill this week.
Last year, when proposed legislation to curb the use of restraint and seclusion in schools fell apart, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the U.S. Senate’s education committee signaled his intention to address the issue in a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, which is also known as No Child Left Behind.
But on Thursday, Harkin’s committee approved a bill to update ESEA that includes no mention of restraint and seclusion. The reason: Harkin said he was not able to get bipartisan support on the issue. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion >>)
Now, the senator says he hopes to add provisions related to restraint and seclusion when the legislation is considered by the full Senate.
“Because of my commitment to keeping this process bipartisan, I recognize that some issues need to be decided by the full Senate,” Harkin said as he opened a meeting of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to consider the ESEA bill. “For example, too many children have lost their lives to seclusion and restraint in schools; and many more staff and students have suffered significant psychological, emotional and physical trauma. This is something I hope we can address as we move to the floor.”
For disability advocates, the development represented a missed opportunity.
“It was disappointing that it wasn’t included in the base bill,” said Barb Trader, who’s been working for nearly two years to secure federal legislation that would limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools as head of a coalition of 22 national disability groups known as APRAIS.
Nonetheless, Trader said she was encouraged that Harkin mentioned the issue during the committee hearing.
“That is a very positive sign,” she said.
A series of reports from the government and advocacy groups have highlighted hundreds of cases of abusive and even deadly uses of restraint and seclusion in the nation’s schools. Legislation promoted by Trader and other advocates would impose first-ever federal oversight on the practices, which are currently governed by a patchwork of state rules.
It is unclear when ESEA will be taken up by the full Senate, though those behind the bill say they are hopeful it will happen before the end of the year.