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N. York: D of Ed considers changes to restraint/seclusion of (special needs) students

Mar 8, 2023, Olean (NY) Times Herald: NY education officials consider new rules on restraints

Officials at the New York State Education Department are exploring updates to state regulations governing the use of restraint and seclusion on schoolchildren, after a Times Union investigation highlighted problems associated with the widespread use of these emergency methods in many schools in New York and elsewhere across the country.

The department has convened an internal working group of staff that meets regularly to examine possible regulatory changes and plans to present any proposed amendments in the spring, agency officials said. The department said it will collect public input before making changes to the state rules.

The department’s study comes as state legislators consider multiple bills to curb the use of inappropriate physical force on students, including a proposed state law to ban seclusion and limit restraint to instances where serious injury is imminent….

Although those methods can cause trauma, injury and in rare cases death, a year-long investigation by the Times Union found educators restrained some students multiple times a day or week, in holds lasting up to two and a half hours. In some cases, students were restrained in non-emergency situations.

Children as young as 3 years old were held in prone — or face-down — restraints, the records showed. Federal education officials say prone restraints “should never be used” because they can restrict a child’s breathing and most states ban prone restraints. New York does not.

The Times Union also found children with disabilities are frequently confined alone in closet-like “time out rooms,” sometimes multiple times a day or for hours at a time. In some cases, students were improperly secluded in bathrooms, electrical and supply closets and other unsafe spaces.

Unlike the majority of states, New York does not require public schools to report how often they use restraints and time out rooms on students. The Times Union uncovered how local schools use these methods by obtaining and analyzing more than 10,000 pages of school records from 22 public school districts. The department collects some data from private and state-run schools for students with disabilities in a voluntary annual survey.

Candace Mulcahy, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton, who studies restraint and seclusion, said New York should ban seclusion, including the use of time out rooms. She said after an incident of restraint and seclusion, schools should be required to hold debriefing meetings with the student, parent and staff involved.

Mulcahy also advised all instructional staff should be trained annually in the new regulations, behavior management and de-escalation….

The state’s largest teacher’s union, New York State United Teachers, did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent years, more and more states have been updating their laws to limit the use of restraint and seclusion in school.

Lawmakers and advocates in at least 10 other states have introduced or are planning to file legislation governing these practices this year, according to Guy Stephens, founder of the advocacy group, Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, and information provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

There is no federal law regulating how these methods are used in schools. Federal legislation that has stalled for the past decade is expected to be reintroduced again this year, but aides in Congress have said they expect it will face an uphill battle due to partisan divide and gridlock in Washington.

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