Update: 107,000 Students Subjected to Restraint/Seclusion. Contact Congress to Pass National Bill

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New statistics show that in 2011-12, at least 70,000 students were subjected to physical restraint, and 37,000, to isolated seclusion.

The statistics were released this Spring as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, a biennial data collection from public schools.

The data showed that students with disabilities were disproportionately restrained and secluded.

It’s Time to Put a Stop to These Abuses

On April 8, 2014, a coalition of 220 national and state organizations, including Wrightslaw, asked the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to act now and pass restraint and seclusion legislation in light of the alarming data.  In 2014, Senators Tom Harkin and Chris Murphy introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act, S.2036.  (Representatives George Miller and Greg Harper had previously introduced a similar companion bill, H.R. 1893 in May 2013.)

Please read more about the statistics and reports, the national bill, and how you can contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor the Keeping All Students Safe Act.

The Civil Rights Data Collection showed that while students with disabilities comprise only 12% of the student population, they were 75% of those restrained and 58% of those secluded.

Minority students were also disproportionately subjected to these practices.  For example, nearly 4,000 students with disabilities were mechanically restrained.  Approximately 36% were African-American, although African-American children comprise only 19% of students with disabilities. Mechanical restraints include using ties, straps, locking chairs and locking devices, and even duct tape to restrain students.

In 2009, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that children were injured, traumatized, and even killed through restraint and seclusion in schools.  The GAO documented 20 students who had died in restraint.  Other children have been killed or injured in seclusion rooms, including a student who hung himself in Atlanta while school staff were outside the locked room.

A February 2014 Senate HELP Committee investigation found that families have little recourse under current law, even when their child has died or been harmed.  Not only do restraints and seclusion harm students, but students are not in the classroom learning, and many regress.

Protection Against Restraint and Seclusion

Many states provide little protection from restraint and seclusion for all students.  Only 14 states restrict restraint to dangers threatening safety emergencies for all children; only 18, for children with disabilities.  Only one state bans seclusion of all children; four ban seclusion of children with disabilities, and another 10 limit seclusion to physical safety emergencies.

Only 20 states require parents of all children be informed of restraint and seclusion use today.

Both Congressional bills will forbid the use of restraint except in emergencies threatening physical danger.

Both seek to prevent non-emergency restraint:  the House bill, by limiting it to threats of physical harm; the Senate, by banning it.  Parents would be notified of restraint and seclusion use on the same day.  The bills will ban restraints that impede breathing, and dangerous mechanical and chemical restraints.  They will ensure that staff are trained in evidence-based methods to minimize the use of restraint and seclusion and the use of positive supports.  They will ensure that teachers have the tools and resources they need to prevent challenging behaviors.  The bills will enhance public oversight by requiring data reporting and collection.

Positive Supports and Interventions

The bills will help schools prevent problematic behavior by shifting to comprehensive positive supports.  Through positive supports and interventions, de-escalation, conflict management, and other positive strategies, can “virtually eliminate” the use of restraint and seclusion, testified Daniel Crimmins, Director, Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University.

Challenging behaviors and can be avoided when staff performs functional behavioral assessments and understands what triggers them.

The Centennial School in Pennsylvania, which serves children from 35 school districts, has slashed its use of restraint from over 1,000 occurrences per year to fewer than 10 through the use of positive interventions.  Its seclusion rooms had been in constant use. They were turned into a school store and supply closet, according to Director Michael George.

It’s Time to Put a Stop to These Abuses

As he introduced the bill, Senator Harkin told the story of Jonathan King, who was “secluded in an 8-by-8-foot concrete room in his Georgia school from the time he was a kindergartener. His parents did not know this was happening to him.”  Jonathan, 13 years old, was killed in seclusion.  “It is time to put a stop to these abuses.”

Contact Your Congressman

Please call or write to your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor the Keeping All Students Safe Act, S.2036 and H.R. 1893.

Calls are more effective, but email will also help.  Contact your Senators through http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm and your Representative through http://www.house.gov/ (put your zip code in the box in the upper corner).

You can also call the Congress, 202-224-3121 or TTY 202-225-1904.

–Jessica Butler, Congressional Affairs Coordinator, Autism National Committee, www.autcom.org (email: jessica@jnba.net)

More Resources

To find data on your own school district’s or state’s use of restraint and seclusion, go to http://ocrdata.ed.gov/   You can also compare schools and districts or get information for all school districts in your state.  Select 2011-12 for the most recent data.

To read more about restraint and seclusion, visit Wrightslaw at https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/abuse.index.htm

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