A 14-year old student in a special education classroom in Texas, Cedric lived with a foster family because of a history of neglect, including malnutrition. One day in 2002, his teacher tried to punish him by withholding food, despite the abuse he had suffered as a young child.
Cedric’s teacher delayed his lunch for hours to discipline him for not doing his work. When he didn’t comply with her demands, his teacher put him in a face-down restraint and sat on him in front of his classmates. Cedric said repeatedly that he could not breathe. He died minutes later on the classroom floor as his terrified classmates watched.
Cedric’s tragic story isn’t an isolated case in America’s schools.
In California cas, Paige, a young girl with Asperger’s syndrome, was restrained because she was wiggling her loose tooth. Her mother, who had never consented to physical interventions, did not know her daughter was being restrained frequently until her daughter came home with bruises. (see Outlaw child abuse in schools,” link below).
Local newspapers recount chilling stories of children tied to chairs, children whose mouths are taped shut, children locked in dark closets, and children pinned to the floor for hours (see Teacher Fired, Isolation Room Closed, Lawsuit Pending and Physical Restraint of Medically Fragile Child).
What would happen if parents treated their children this way?
Disability Rights Report on Child Abuse in School Triggers GAO Investigation
In January 2009, George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee requested an investigation by Government Accountability Office (GAO) after the National Disability Rights Network released a report, School is Not Supposed to Hurt, that highlighted these abuses.
In May, the GAO released a report that documented thousands of children being abused at school. In some cases, school staff used ropes, duct tape, chairs with straps and bungee cords to restrain or isolate young children. Although restraint and seclusion should only be used in situations of imminent danger, the GAO found that:
- many school staff who use restraint and seclusion have not been trained
- restraint and seclusion are used as routine discipline, not in response to an emergency
- restraint can be fatal when it restricts breathing
- most abused children had disabilities; some died.
Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion Act (H.R. 4247)
On Wednesday, December 9, George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247). This legislation is intended to protect children from the harmful use of restraint and seclusion at school. Senator Chris Dodd D-CT) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Children Suffering Abuse and Torture in Their Classrooms
“Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms,” said Miller. “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.”
“The GAO found that children’s lives was threatened, even when they were not a threat to others. This behavior, in some instances, looks like torture. The current situation is unacceptable and cannot continue. 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.”
Senator Dodd said, “The tragedies associated with the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint are not only unacceptable, they are unconscionable …
“There is no place in our schools for torture, and 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.”
Federal Laws Do Not Protect Children from Abuse at School
Unlike hospitals and other medical and community-based facilities that receive federal funding, federal laws do not address restraint and seclusion in schools.
The Children’s Health Act of 2000 regulates how and when restraint and seclusion can be used on children in hospitals, and other medical settings. Schools are not covered under that law.
Because there are no federal standards, most states do not protect children from abuse at school and do keep records of restraints and seclusion. Nor do the states provide training in behavioral interventions for school staff. Many states have no regulations at all. What happens? Children are vulnerable and at-risk, school staff are untrained.
The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247) will establish federal standards to protect students from misuse of restraint and seclusion. The law will apply to public schools, private schools and preschools that receive federal education support. The Education and Labor Committee plans to mark up the bill early next year.
As usual, the devil is in the details.
Is this bill as good as it needs to be? What changes should Congress make in the Bill to improve it?
Next week, we will publish a comprehensive article about the Protecting Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. If you subscribe to The Special Ed Advocate, you will receive a link to that article and additional information about this Bill
To view a fact sheet on the legislation, click here.
Full text of the GAO Report, Seclusions And Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse ta Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers.
Outlaw Child Abuse in Schools (Op-Ed y George Cathy McMorris Rodgers,
Teacher Fired, Isolation Room Closed, Lawsuit Pending. This video from a school surveillance tape shows a teacher dragging a 14 year boy down a hallway and throwing him into a seclusion room. Surely, other school staff member are aware of these incidents. Why are they silent?
Abuse, Restraints and Seclusion in School - Comprehensive listing of articles, reports, position papers, school abuse cases, and information about positive behavioral support.