Efforts To Curb Restraint And Seclusion Still Largely Piecemeal
Nearly a decade after Congress first considered restrictions on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, a new report finds that rules continue to vary significantly from state to state.
Thirty states have “meaningful” laws on the books limiting restraint and seclusion among all children and 39 have some variety of restrictions specifically for kids with disabilities, according to an analysis published by the advocacy organization the Autism National Committee.
That’s up markedly from 2009 when just nine states had laws affecting all students and 21 had laws related to restraint and seclusion of those with disabilities.
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A series of reports detailing hundreds of instances of abusive and even deadly uses of the practices led the U.S. House of Representatives to approve sweeping legislation in 2010 imposing first-ever national standards on restraint and seclusion in schools. However, the Senate failed to pass the bill and federal efforts have been stalled ever since.
Nonetheless, Jessica Butler, who authored the new report, says that the conversation at the federal level did spark change. Since 2017 alone, she said a dozen states have either enacted or strengthened legislation regarding the practices.
“The congressional spotlight has made the difference and caused states to act to protect children,” said Butler who previously served as congressional affairs coordinator for the Autism National Committee and led coalitions pushing for federal legislation. “But the improvements in some states make no difference to families in states with weak laws. A family which moves from Kansas to Missouri, or from Texas to Oklahoma loses its protections.”
Some states including Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma have “almost no protection” and Idaho has never addressed the issue at all, Butler said.
At the federal level, Democrats introduced a bill late last year shortly after winning a majority in the House similar to the legislation that was approved in 2010. They indicated plans to reintroduce and prioritize restraint and seclusion legislation this year, but so far that hasn’t happened and congressional sources were mum this week on the status.
According to the most recent figures from the Department of Education, 122,000 students across the country were subject to restraint or seclusion during the 2015-2016 academic year. Children with disabilities accounted for 71 percent of restraint and 66 percent of seclusion cases.
However, in a report out this summer, the Government Accountability Office found that the Education Department data is incomplete and inaccurate, with many school districts falsely reporting zero incidents.
The Education Department said it has undertaken a broad initiative to improve data collection on restraint and seclusion and promote proper ways of addressing the behavioral needs of students with disabilities.