A modified bill to restrict restraint and seclusion in schools could breathe new life into congressional efforts to alter the way educators discipline students with special needs.

Legislation introduced in the Senate last week is similar to a bill that won approval in the House of Representatives in March with one notable exception. The new Senate bill would allow schools to include restraint and seclusion in individualized education plans, or IEPs, for some students if they have a two-year history of behaviors that create an “imminent danger of serious bodily injury in school.” The House version specifically prohibited the disciplinary tactics from being included in an IEP.

The change came about amid concerns from lobbyists working on behalf of the nation’s school administrators and efforts by legislators to gain bipartisan support for the measure. The new bill introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion >>)

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Disability advocates pushing for federal legislation limiting restraint and seclusion have staunchly opposed allowing the tactics to be included in students’ IEPs. The reason: they say that incorporating restraint and seclusion in a child’s IEP makes the techniques acceptable practice and opens the door for increased use.

Now advocates are reviewing the modified bill. “It’s a difficult situation,” says Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “We want to make sure that we can improve the situation for students with disabilities and that we have a bill that can pass.”

Meanwhile, time is running short. Congress is currently in recess until mid-November and it is unclear if the Senate will consider the legislation at that time. If the bill is not approved before the end of this year, the process would have to start over again.

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