A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has introduced legislation aimed at protecting students in the nation’s schools from harmful uses of restraint and seclusion.
The legislation follows congressional hearings and a report by the Government Accountability Office last spring that documented hundreds of cases of schoolchildren being subjected to inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion in schools, often by untrained school staff. A disproportionate number of those cases involved students with disabilities; some students died.
Lack of oversight has led to a “serious, systemwide failure” that in some cases has subjected students to “nothing short of torture,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who co-sponsored the House bill with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) A comparable measure was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT).
The bill would establish minimum safety standards in schools, prohibiting physical restraint or locked seclusion except in cases where there is imminent danger of injury, and where the restriction is imposed by a trained staff member.
It would also: prohibit mechanical restraints, including strapping children to chairs or duct-taping parts of their bodies; prohibit any restraint that restricts breathing, and require schools to notify parents immediately after incidents when restraint or seclusion was used.
In addition, the bill would require states to collect detailed data on restraint and seclusion, make it publicly available, and report it to the federal government.
Speaking at a press conference to launch the bill, Nicole Holden of Muskegon, MI, (above) told of going to a holiday party in her son’s preschool classroom and finding 3-year-old Ethan tied to a chair. Holden subsequently learned that her son, who has autism and language delays, had been tied to a chair in class for three hours a day for six weeks. “Strapping him in a chair was literally torture to my son,” Holden said. “He could not speak. He could not tell us as parents what was happening.”
(Photo from House press conference video; L-R: McMorris Rodgers, Nicole and Alan Holden, Miller)
Op-ed on CNN: Outlaw child abuse in schools, by Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.)
Video of the press conference introducing HR 4247