Federal Legislation Introduced on Seclusion and Restraint

In response to a Government Accountability Office report exposing the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in schools, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) have introduced legislation establishing minimum federal standards similar to those currently in place for hospitals and non-medical community-based facilities.

“Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms,” said Chairman Miller in a press release. “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.”

Sen. Dodd agreed, stating, “We need clear standards for the use of tactics that lead to the physical and psychological abuse of children. This legislation will set clear guidelines so that children and educators alike can be sure of a safe learning environment.”

The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247/S. 2860) would prohibit the use of physical restraint or seclusion unless a student’s behavior poses an imminent danger of physical injury to the student, school personnel, or others. Only those school personnel who have been trained and certified by a state-approved training program could impose physical restraint or seclusion except in “rare and clearly unavoidable emergency circumstances.” Schools would also be required to notify parents after incidents when restraint or seclusion was used.

States would have two years to ensure they are in compliance with the federal standards and could apply for a grant to fund professional development, training, and certification for school personnel to meet the standards. They could also use the funding to develop training programs for implementing systematic approaches to schoolwide positive behavior supports.

“Principals will be supported by passage of the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act as states are required not only to comply with the federal standards but also to provide support and training to educators in this area,” said John Nori, NASSP Director of Program Development. “Currently, many schools across America have no trained staff in this area and few or no resources for professional development, as this is typically one of the first things cut in tough budgets times.”

The bill is expected to be considered by the House Education and Labor Committee early next year.

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