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New Effort Emerges To Curb Restraint, Seclusion In Schools


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A proposal in the U.S. Senate is breathing new life into efforts to limit restraint and seclusion of children with disabilities in the nation’s schools.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced legislation in late December that would bar restraint and seclusion in most school situations.

The bill is an attempt to address concerns after a 2009 Government Accountability Office report found hundreds of cases of restraint or seclusion in schools that were allegedly abusive or deadly. In nearly all incidents, the students involved had disabilities.

Under the Harkin proposal, children could not be secluded in locked or unattended areas and educators would be barred from using chemical or mechanical restraints. The measure would also limit any type of restraint from being used outside of emergency situations and it would prohibit the tactics from being included in a student’s individualized education program, or IEP. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion »)

“Every child should be educated in a supportive, caring, stimulating environment in which they are treated as an individual and provided with the tools they need to succeed,” Harkin said in a statement. “This bill will set long-overdue standards to protect children from physical and psychological harm and ensure a safe learning environment for teachers and students alike.”

Disability advocates are optimistic with the Harkin bill receiving a stamp of approval from a broad base of organizations including the National Disability Rights Network, TASH, Easter Seals, United Cerebral Palsy, The Arc and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.

However, the bill — which does not have any co-sponsors — is likely to face an uphill battle. Similar legislation was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, but was not able to gain traction in the Senate as supporters struggled to attract Republican backing for the measure. And, a companion bill proposed last April in the House has yet to be taken up.

What’s more, the measure is being met with opposition from the American Association of School Administrators who argue that it imposes cumbersome training requirements and “burdensome data collection mandates,” according to a blog post on the group’s website. The organization also believes that Harkin’s bill includes too high a standard governing when restraint could be used.

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    Restrain prohibition should be for the oxymoron “punitive restraint.” Loving, objective restraint by a well-trained therapist or special needs teacher can be extremely effective. Restraint is misused by
    untrained staff who become emotional, threatened and angry. Restraint should never be used in
    the situation of personal anger by staff–that is called abuse.

  2. Carmen Allen says:

    This bill only gets rid of prone restraint ( a certain type of restraint), not restraints in general. The Bill sounds good but it promotes “positive behavioral interventions and supports” (PBIS) which is rooted in Applied Behavioral Analysis. PBIS was codified in IDEA 97 and it is a process allowing for the use of Functional Analysis (FA) if a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) does not work. A functional analysis allows a child to be put into a room and purposely “triggered” into the supposed “inappropriate” behaviors over and over again to establish the function of the behavior, this creates an emergency situation for which restraints my be needed. Some children have snapped during this process and have to be hospitalized, some end up with PTSD for the rest of their lives and some have attempted or commit suicide. This is not my opinion but a part of the process described in the technical guide of PBS. You don’t have to write restraint in the IEP but the PBIS language is enough to allow schools to put ANY and ALL chidren through that process of a FA and that can require restraint. PBS is how we ended up with this problem of restraint and seclusion in our schools to begin with. I am in agreement that restraints, seclusion and abuse need to banned in our schools but the language in this Bill will only put 100% of our children at risk for this procedure. I’m sorry, cuz I know many will disagree but please look it up in the technical guide. I have the soures to what I am describing if you all don’t have it. Also the Bill has NO consequences for anyone who does restrain a child. This therapy also does not led to independance or self-advocacy, nor does it work for the majority of children. Perhaps some are okay with taking a chance that this process can be done to your child – but I am not okay with this. Sorry to those who will be upset with my post but I am posting because I am concerned for all children who may be subjected to this treatment if we codify PBIS further.

  3. Melody Barton says:

    I am speaking on behalf of the special needs children. Restraint does not work. Restraint AND exclusion is a form of abuse. It sounds as though people are trying to find an effective way to handle behavior problems and recognize that restraint and exclusion need to stop. That’s good. I applaud that; however, this bill has problems. I’ll name at least one: Who defines what an “emergency” is? Does anyone deem the right to state what an “emergency” is? If so, that is wrong. Restraint should only be used if the child is harming himself/herself or others. Seclusion should just disappear. Leaving a child alone in a room is not effective and leads to psychological trauma. And if restraint used in any other methodthan what I specified above is traumatizing to special needs children as well. Carmen Allen makes some excellent points. I agree with her post. Before agreeing with this bill check IDEA and ADA laws.

  4. I. Blandon says:

    Please support this bill. As a special needs of a child with autism, cognitive delays and little, limited communication, I can tell you from painful experience that my son was the subject of restrains as young as 5 years old by his former school. A school in Flushing, Queens which promoted and promoted themselves in being experts in TEACCH methodologies and support with autistic children. School administrators from the school managed deceptively to excuse and unaccount themselves from all the times my son was restrained, many times without my awaressnes. They hide under the guise of a “team” They had gradually increased the restrains as the only quick “intervention and “tme outs” or removal of my son from his classrooms in the name of breaks, while they constructed a negative record for him. Something has to be done on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.

  5. Functional Behavior Assessment Form says:

    Very insightful and straightforward.beautiful and evocative post!

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