Rep. George Miller (D-CA), ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced a bill known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act on April 6th. The bipartisan legislation would prevent and reduce the use of inappropriate restraint and seclusion on public and private schoolchildren by establishing minimum safety standards in schools, similar to standards already in place in hospitals and non-medical community-based facilities. The bill first passed in the House last year with bipartisan support but was not voted on in the Senate.

“In the year since this legislation passed the House but failed to become law, more children were abused in school” says Rep. Miller. “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.”

In 2009 Rep. Miller requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office conduct an investigation into allegations by the National Disability Rights Network that restraint and seclusion abuses were widespread in public and private schools. The GAO found hundreds of cases of abuse, most cases involving young children with disabilities. The report found children were bound with duct tape, rope, or bungee cords, locked alone in rooms for hours at a time, and hit or sat on by staff as routine disciplinary tactics rather than in response to an emergency. Such abuse can have lasting traumatic effects on young children. Several reported cases resulted in the student’s death when the restraint blocked air from entering the student’s lungs for an extended period of time.

Nonetheless, state regulations on the use of restraint and seclusion are irregular and inconsistent. Currently, 36% of states have no laws, policies, or regulatory guidance on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Additionally, 88% of states still allow the use of prone restraints, which may restrict breathing. Keeping All Students Safe Act requires a federal safety minimum to ensure the safety of school children.

Specifically, the legislation would limit physical restraint and locked seclusion only in cases of imminent danger or injury and only when administered by trained staff. Mechanical, chemical, and restricted breathing restraints would be prohibited, as would aversive behavioral interventions such as denying students water, food, clothing, or access to toilet facilities. Such methods of restraint would not be allowed as planned interventions in students’ education plans, including Individualized Education Programs. Schools would also be required to notify parents after incidents when restraint and seclusion were used.

Overall, the legislation seeks to increase transparency, oversight, and enforcement to prevent future abuse. NASSP fully supports the Keeping All Students Safe Act.

For more information on the legislation, visit http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/blog/2011/04/keeping-all-students-safe-act.shtml

The House Education and Labor Committee today approved legislation supported by NASSP that would establish minimum federal standards on the use of seclusion and restraint in schools similar to those currently in place for hospitals and non-medical community-based facilities.

The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247) 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.

“This bill makes clear that there is no place in our schools for abuse and torture,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “The egregious abuse of a child should not be considered less criminal because it happens in a classroom—It should be the opposite. I’m proud that this bill has bipartisan support and I hope the full House will vote on it soon.”

“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.”

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) has introduced a companion bill (S. 2860) in the Senate, but there has been no committee action to date.

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