As the House of Representatives prepares to vote Wednesday on legislation to curb restraint and seclusion in schools, private schools are working to block the bill in a move that’s catching disability advocates by surprise.

In a letter to members of the House, a group representing 80 percent of the country’s private schools said they are concerned that provisions of the bill are too far-reaching and could inhibit a teacher from “breaking up a schoolyard dust-up” or “grabbing a child about to dart into the carpool lane at dismissal.” Further, they say private schools should not be subject to this type of federal oversight.

The group called the Council for American Private Education, or CAPE, is asking members of Congress to oppose the legislation.

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“It’s trying to address an issue that as far as we can see doesn’t affect the schools we represent,” says Joe McTighe, the group’s executive director about the bill. “It’s an over-extension in an attempt by Congress to micromanage school policy.”

The move to counter the legislation is leaving disability advocates baffled. Parents have expressed concerns about restraint and seclusion practices in private and public schools alike, they say. What’s more, the new rules would only apply to private schools that accept federal funding to provide certain services.

Under the bill being considered by Congress, schools could only use restraint and seclusion when there is imminent danger and when implemented by a trained staff member. The techniques could not be included in a student’s individualized education plan, or IEP, and the proposed legislation would require that parents be notified if restraint or seclusion is utilized. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion >>)

“The real issue here is child safety,” says Barb Trader, executive director of TASH who’s taken the lead in advocating for the bill. “I don’t see any reason why private schools should be excluded.”

In a group letter to Congress this week, 32 disability advocacy groups said leaving private schools free of regulation on this issue would do a disservice to students, some of whom are assigned to private schools by their school districts.

“Many students receiving special education services are placed by their public school districts into private schools,” the letter says. “Parents should not lose vital health and safety protections for their child if they and/or their school district decide to make such a placement.”

Meanwhile, the full House plans to take up the matter Wednesday morning, with private schools remaining subject to the bill’s terms. Staffers for the measure’s chief sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., say he’s optimistic.

“Chairman Miller believes that all children should be safe and protected while at school. He is confident his colleagues will join him in supporting this bill that would set the minimum protections to provide these assurances,” a spokeswoman told Disability Scoop.

A similar bill was introduced last year in the Senate, but there’s no word yet on when that body may take up the issue.

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