U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will ensure that all states have policies in place for handling seclusion and restraint in schools before the start of the next academic year, he told the House Education and Labor Committee Wednesday.

Duncan’s announcement comes in response to a government report released at the committee’s meeting Tuesday. That report documented hundreds of cases of allegedly abusive or deadly uses of restraint and seclusion tactics in schools. It included cases of teachers holding students face down for hours, gagging them, leaving them in dark, closet-like spaces for hours at a time and preventing students from using the bathroom, among other allegations. Nearly all of the allegedly abusive cases involve children with disabilities.

Duncan called the information revealed in the report “very disturbing, troubling information.”

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“Children’s safety has to be our number one concern before we begin to think about educating them,” Duncan said. “I’m going to ask state school chiefs from around the country to report to me what their plans are to make sure that student safety is taken care of… I want to make sure that at the start of the next school year that every state has a real clear plan as to how to do this in a way that makes sense and that doesn’t jeopardize, doesn’t endanger children.”

Duncan praised a process already in place in Illinois which requires monitoring, documentation and training for restraint and seclusion. Further, in that state such techniques cannot be used as a form of punishment.

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Previous stories on this topic:

Government Report Confirms Abusive Seclusion, Restraint (May 19, 2009)

Abuse Restraint And Seclusion Tactics Widespread, Report Indicates (May 6, 2009)

Government Report On Seclusion, Restraint Expected Soon (April 17, 2009)

Congressman Wants Answers On School Restraint And Seclusion (January 27, 2009)

Schools’ Restraint And Seclusion Tactics Cause Injury, Death, Report Says (January 14, 2009)