School Climate & Safety

Federal Bill on Restraint, Seclusion Resurrected

By Nirvi Shah — April 07, 2011 2 min read
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Since the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” was passed in the U.S. House more than a year ago, a new report says there have been dozens of cases in which restraints or seclusion or both have been used on students with disabilities.

The report, called “The Cost of Waiting,” also includes examples from a previous report by the National Disability Rights Network called “School is Not Supposed to Hurt” and references a Government Accountability Office study of the use of these practices.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., reintroduced the bill, which had passed 262 to 153 and had bipartisan support. (This link points to the bill passed in 2010; I haven’t found the text of the new one, which will be H.R. 1381.)

“In the year since this legislation passed the House but failed to become law, more children were abused in school. The investigations and news reports about harmful restraint and seclusion show children being tied up with duct tape, sat on by untrained staff, locked in rooms for hours at a time—this behavior looks like torture. This legislation makes it very clear that there is no room for torture and abuse in America’s schools,” Rep. Miller said in a statement.

Among other things, the law would limit physical restraint and locked seclusion, allowing their use only in cases where the student or someone else is in imminent danger of injury, and only when imposed by trained staff; outlaw mechanical restraints, including strapping kids to chairs, and prohibit restraints that restrict breathing; require schools to notify parents when restraint or seclusion was used; and encourage states to provide support and training to better protect students and prevent the need for emergency behavioral interventions.

A version of the bill was introduced in the Senate near the end of 2010 by outgoing Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, but was never taken up for a vote. I’m told the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pension Committee is working on their own solution to addressing issues surrounding the use of restraints and seclusion.

With Congress poised for a shutdown, and financial matters their top priority, it’s uncertain whether the bill will have a better chance during this session.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in on the bill on Wednesday afternoon, thanking Mr. Miller and Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss, who is one of 16 cosponsors.

“I appreciate Congressman Miller’s and Congressman Harper’s introduction of bipartisan legislation to address this very serious issue—abuse of restraint and seclusion has resulted not only in harm to many children, but in some cases death. I look forward to working with them to ensure that all children are protected from abuse,” he said in a statement.

Several states have their own laws about the use or bans of restraints and seclusion. One is under consideration in Oregon right now. But the laws vary. And while there are federal laws governing these practices for hospitals, other health providers, and other community-based facilities that receive federal funding, nothing in federal law restricts their use in schools. Rep. Miller’s office said only 13 states ban the use of restraints that impede breathing, only 10 states ban mechanical restraint and 10 states ban chemical restraints.

Backers of the proposed federal law include a long list of disability advocacy groups.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.