(Updated: June 26, 2012 at 10:46 AM CT)

Lawmakers are set to consider the use of restraint and seclusion in the nation’s classrooms in the coming weeks, rekindling efforts to establish first-ever federal rules governing the practices.

The topic is expected to be front and center at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee originally scheduled for Thursday that is now planned for July 12. A much anticipated ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the legality of health care reform is expected Thursday morning when the hearing was initially scheduled and is believed to be the reason for the postponement.

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The use of restraint and seclusion in schools has been a hotbed for disability advocates since 2009 when an advocacy group report uncovered widespread abuse and even deadly instances, problems which were later confirmed in a government report as well.

Students with disabilities were most often subject to the questionable practices, the reports found.

In response, legislation sharply restricting restraint and seclusion was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, but when Senate talks fell apart later that year, action on the issue largely fizzled.

Currently, a patchwork of state and local rules exist. Disability advocates say that federal requirements are needed to ensure student safety.

However, at least one group representing educators — the American Association of School Administrators — opposes such regulation arguing that it is unnecessary and would put school staff at risk.

The hearing planned for July marks the first time this year that Congress will consider the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Currently bills are on the table in both houses of Congress that call for the practices to be restricted, though support for the legislation is scant.

On the Senate side, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is the lone sponsor of a bill he introduced last December. The measure would bar any type of restraint from being used outside of an emergency situation and prohibit the tactics from being included in a student’s individualized education program, or IEP, among other limitations. (Read all of Disability Scoop’s coverage of restraint and seclusion »)

Meanwhile, there are 44 backers of a House version of the bill and the top Democrat on the body’s education committee is urging leaders to take up the issue. However, the committee’s Republican chair, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., remains reluctant.

“State and local leaders are taking steps to ensure school practices are safe for students, and have made great progress in achieving this shared goal,” said Kline spokeswoman Alexandra Haynes Sollberger. “Chairman Kline remains concerned that federal intervention could obstruct these efforts, ultimately doing more harm than good to students and educators. For this reason, the committee has not scheduled any action on restraint and seclusion legislation at this time.”

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