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DC lawmakers want federal law limiting restraint/seclusion use

May 18, 2023, Albany (NY) Times-Union: Lawmakers renew push for federal limits on restraint and seclusion in school

The American Association of School Administrators has opposed efforts to pass a federal law, noting most states already have laws governing the practices

A group of national lawmakers reintroduced a proposal Thursday that would block schools nationally from secluding students in locked rooms or using certain types of physical restraints.

Though the bill, called the Keeping All Students Safe Act, faces long odds in a divided Congress, it has gained supporters this year, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who leads the Senate committee overseeing education and now backs the proposal.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that children across this country, disproportionately students of color and students with disabilities, face dangerous seclusion and restraint practices," Sanders said. "It is our moral responsibility to ban these practices once and for all."

In a news release announcing the proposed bill, lawmakers cited a year-long Hearst Newspapers investigation revealing that schools restrain and seclude special education students thousands of times a day and hundreds of thousands of times a year, sometimes resulting in serious injury or even death.

“It’s hard to believe, but there are thousands of kids who are being put in solitary confinement or having their hands bound as punishment for misbehavior at school,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who was not available Thursday for an interview, said in a statement.

“These practices are downright dangerous and completely ineffective ways to address behavioral issues in the classroom.”

As part of the proposed bill, schools receiving federal money would not be permitted to seclude students or to restrain them unless necessary to protect student or staff safety. It would altogether ban restraint practices that restrict students' breathing, such as prone or supine restraints and would offer training “to address school-expected behavior with evidence-based, proactive strategies.”

The proposal was reintroduced Thursday by a group that included Murphy, Sanders, Sen. Patty Murray D-Wash., and Reps. Don Beyer and Bobby Scott, Democrats from Virginia. Fourteen other Senate Democrats have cosponsored the bill, but no Republicans have signed on so far.

The proposal also has support from a wide array of disability rights advocacy groups, as well as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and parents groups including the National PTA.

“The evidence is clear that seclusion and restraint practices are not only ineffective and dangerous, but they are also disproportionately used against students of color and students with disabilities,” Denise Forte, CEO of The Education Trust, said in a statement. “Every child deserves to learn in a safe and healthy school environment, and to be protected from violent policies that threaten their physical and mental well-being.”

Still, not everyone agrees that federal restrictions around restraint and seclusion in schools are needed. Some educators believe the interventions are necessary to serve students with challenging disabilities, while others believe a patchwork of state laws governing the practices are sufficient and help maintain local control of schools.

Over the last decade, the country’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, which boasts 3 million members, has remained “neutral” on proposed federal legislation: the association didn’t lobby for or against it, according to congressional aides and national advocates. The NEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Hearst Newspapers on Thursday.

The nation’s second largest teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.7 million members, changed its position from “neutral” to supportive last year. But the AFT has not officially endorsed the new bill….

Weingarten said teachers need funding to support professional development on the use of restraint and seclusion, emergency planning and other supports.

“Finally, we need to be sure data is collected on the number of staff injured as a result of restraining students who posed a danger to themselves or others,” she said….

The American Association of School Administrators has opposed efforts to pass a federal law, noting that most states already have laws governing the practices. The group said Thursday its position had not changed.

Hearst Newspapers’ investigation found state laws vary widely regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Even in states with laws governing how the interventions can be used, “lack of oversight and accountability have resulted in egregious violations, leaving students subject to a pattern of abuse,” a coalition of 17 state attorneys general wrote to Congress in 2021, urging lawmakers to pass federal legislation.

In New York, seclusion is not permitted, but teachers are allowed to isolate students alone in an unlocked room as long as they are monitored. But, a Times Union investigation found these so-called time out rooms are sometimes used to seclude students, and some students have spent hours alone in these spaces.

Educators in New York are allowed to physically restrain students when there is a threat of physical injury, property damage or the student is disrupting the order of the student, according to state regulations. The Times Union uncovered cases of restraints used on in non-emergency scenarios and instances of teacher and student injuries resulting from the practices. In some private schools serving students with disabilities, state investigators found restraints were deliberately misused hundreds of times.

The state collects no data on how often the methods are used in public schools. But this spring the New York State Education Department introduced new proposed regulations this spring that would limit the use of physical restraint only to cases of “imminent” threat injury, ban prone restraints and would trigger reporting requirements to parents and the state. The regulations will be voted on by the Board of Regents in July.

A Democrat in the state Assembly also introduced legislation to make similar changes in state law this spring.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol Building May 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. Sanders co-sponsored legislation to ban seclusion and limit physical restraints of students in schools on May 18, 2023. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images


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