A bill that would authorize the federal government to regulate the use of restraints and seclusion in schools and require any use of such practices to be reported to parents moved a step closer to becoming law last week.
The bill, known as the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, passed by a vote of 262-153 in the U.S. House of Representatives. If made law, it would establish the first federal safety standards in schools for the use of restraint and seclusion, similar to rules in place in hospitals and nonmedical, community-based facilities. Regulations on the practices of restraint and seclusion vary from state to state. News reports said the main objections came from Republican lawmakers who argued that states should decide such matters.
“It’s time to end this nightmare of abuse that has hurt too many students, classmates, families, and school communities,” U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a written statement.
A report by the congressional Government Accountability Office last May found allegations that children had been abused, or even died, because of the misuse of restraint and seclusion in schools.
Many of the students on whom the practices are used have disabilities. The practices are intended to be used in emergencies when students present a danger to themselves or others.
The law would ban the use of mechanical restraints, such as strapping children to chairs, and prohibit restraints that restrict breathing. It would bar the use of medications to control behavior that were not administered consistent with prescriptions from a doctor and would ban staff members from denying students water, food, clothing, or access to toilet facilities to control behavior.
States would have two years to develop policies, procedures, and monitoring and enforcement systems to meet the minimum federal safety standards.
No action has been scheduled on a companion bill in the Senate.
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A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Curbs on Pupil Restraints Advance