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Tennessee: State bill would allow handcuffing SPED students

A new Tennessee bill would allow law enforcement officers to use mechanical restraints, such as belts and handcuffs, on students with disabilities.

SB 141/HB 127 says that school resource officers, school security officers, and any other law enforcement officers who are certified to do so, can apply "mechanical restraint" to special education students.

The bill does not set limits on the extent of which officers can restrain students, or add restrictions to ensure the student is safe

. No documentation to parents is outlined in the bill. Lawmakers write that this use of mechanical restraint is only allowed in emergency situations. What constitutes as an emergency is not defined.

Officers have to go through a "behavior intervention training" program prior to mechanically restraining a student with a disability.

The ACLU issued a statement in response to the bill: SB 141/HB 127 would allow school security and school resource officers to use mechanical restraints such as handcuffs and zip ties on students with disabilities in “emergency situations,” or when a student’s behavior poses a threat to the physical safety of the student or others nearby. This bill is out of line with the U.S. Department of Education, which recommends never using mechanical restraints and only using physical restraints (body contact by school personnel) to restrain a student with a disability, when there is imminent danger of serious physical harm.

This bill does not include any specific training requirements for school staff and officers on how to perform safe mechanical restraints on children. Tennessee advocates have reported that law enforcement officers using handcuffs to restrain students with disabilities has led to injuries such as the bruising of the arms, legs, back, and head; broken bones; and ongoing psychological harm, including harm necessitating psychiatric hospitalization.

What’s more, this bill does not require any documentation of such incidents or notice to parents. This is especially troubling for students with speech impairments or who are otherwise unable to communicate effectively with their parents about what happens at school.

We already have the tools we need to address problematic behavior without resorting to mechanically restraining students with disabilities. Federal law mandates the use of positive behavior supports that, when used correctly, are extremely effective in reducing dangerous behavior. And if a student receiving exceptional education services is creating a safety risk, the use of physical restraints (body contact by school personnel) is already allowed under existing Tennessee law.

Opening the door to mechanical restraints is unnecessary and could have devastating consequences on children with disabilities. In fact, the state of Tennessee has prohibited all use of mechanical restraints on students with disabilities since 2009. This proposed legislation undoes this legal protection from unnecessary and unsafe restraint and is out of line with existing federal and state laws.


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