Members of both houses of Congress last week introduced legislation to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion on students in schools, and to require that any use of such practices be reported to parents.
The proposed law 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.
A report in May from the Government Accountability Office outlined allegations that children had been abused, or even died, because of misuse of restraint and seclusion in schools. Many of the students on whom those practices are used have disabilities. The practices are meant to be used in emergencies when students are deemed a danger to themselves or others. (“Study on Restraints and Seclusion Stirs Alarm,” June 10, 2009.)
U.S. Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., proposed the bill in the House, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., proposed a similar measure in the Senate.
“Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms,” Mr. Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee said in a statement. He had requested the GAO investigation.
“In some cases, the abuses these kids are suffering are nothing short of torture inflicted at the hands of the very staff we entrust with their safety. Today is a critical first step toward finally ending this nightmare of abuse and ensuring that all classrooms are safe for students, their teachers, and the entire school communities,” Mr. Miller said.
Both bills would ban the use of mechanical restraints, such as strapping children to chairs, and prohibit restraints that restrict breathing. It would prohibit the use of medications to control behavior that were not administered properly. It also would bar school staff members from denying students water, food, clothing, or access to toilet facilities to control behavior. States would be required to report the use of restraint and seclusion to the U.S. secretary of education, according to the House education committee.
States would have two years to develop policies, procedures, and monitoring and enforcement systems to meet the minimum federal safety standards. Federal funds could be withheld from states that did not meet the requirements, the committee’s Web site says.
There is a long history of students with disabilities being subjected to inappropriate and abusive seclusions and restraints, Ari Ne-eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, said in a statement last week. The legislation introduced today is the first of its kind, going far beyond previous efforts to protect students with disabilities.
A version of this article appeared in the December 16, 2009 edition of Education Week as Restraint, Seclusion Bills Introduced