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.

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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 ยป)

“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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