UPDATE, March 21, 2012: The Keep All Students Safe Act, retroduced by Rep. George Miller (see story below) a year ago has been shelved ever since; a similar bill in the Senate is also moribund.
As Nirvi Shah reports in a blog in yesterday's Education Week, parents are tired of waiting.
On Monday, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities picked apart the [American Association of School Administrators] report, which came on the heels of the first ever attempt to collect data on the frequency with which public school students are restrained or isolated in the name of keeping themselves or others safe. AASA's report was based in part on a survey of its members, but as CCD points out, there isn't any information about the survey or its methodology.
"With no source cited, the AASA simply asserts that 99 percent of school personnel use seclusion and restraint safely and only when needed. This assertion is not supported by any facts," the Consortium wrote.
The group also attacked AASA for claiming that school staff members are well trained regarding the appropriate methods of restraining or secluding students.
"The survey does not distinguish between staff who receive a few hours of instruction and those who complete rigorous training and certification programs," the letter says. "In fact, poorly trained or untrained staff were involved in several deaths and injuries reported by the [Government Accountability Office} and others. Only seven states mandate training in medical distress and first-aid, and only 18 states in safe and appropriate restraint/seclusion use (often without further definition of what this means)."
The Congressional bills will require training in evidence-based techniques and the dangers of seclusion and restraint, and provide needed funds for training personnel."
CCD sent the letter to the U.S. House Education & the Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urging Congress to pass a federal law regulating the use of restraints and seclusion in schools. AASA opposes the federal proposals.
Their letter notes that of the students secluded or restrained at school, 70 percent have disabilities...
UPDATE, APRIL 8, 2011: Seventeen months after the introduction of the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (which was passed by the House last year, but failed to reach the Senate floor for a vote), the bill, now called "Keep All Students Safe Act," was reintroduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA, Martinez) Wednesday, April 6. The action was taken 12 days before a former Appleton, Wisconsin teacher , Mary C. Berglund, 53, is to make her first court appearance on 10 felony charges related to treatment of cognitively disabled students. According to the Appleton Post Crescent:
The bill calls for grants to support training and would require states to collect and report data regarding restraint and seclusion annually. If passed, states could lose federal funding if they fail to set policies and procedures that meet minimum standards.TASH, a Washington-based advocacy organization for the disabled, filed a report Wednesday to coincide with the bill's reintroduction. It highlighted a sampling of inappropriate restraint and seclusion cases that occurred since the bill passed in the House last year.
Previously published by California's Children on this topic:
"This isn't simply a matter of a bad teacher here or there. We face a serious systemwide failure." -- Congressman George Miller, D-CA (Martinez), author of The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (HR 4247), a bill introduced yesterday by Miller and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-WA.
(Justice for All, the blog of the American Association for People with Disabilities, reports: It is impossible to determine the full extent to which seclusion and restraint practices are used in schools because there is no centralized reporting system. The few states that do collect data suggest these methods are used frequently. During the last school year alone, Texas and California documented over 33,000 incidents in which seclusion and restraint were used on students in public and private schools.) [Emphases ours.]
From Rep. Miller's website:
A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last spring exposed hundreds of cases of schoolchildren being abused as a result of inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion, often involving untrained staff. In some cases, children died. A disproportionate number of these victims were students with disabilities.
“Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms,” said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee who requested the GAO’s investigation. “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. 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.”
Restraint is used to restrict an individual’s freedom of movement. Seclusion is used to involuntarily confine a student in an area alone. Both practices are meant to be used only in situations of imminent danger. Among other things, the GAO found that restraint can become fatal when it restricts breathing, that many of the school staff who used these interventions in abusive ways had not been properly trained, and that these practices are often being used as a routine disciplinary tactic, rather than in response to an emergency.
In some of the cases GAO investigated, ropes, duct tape, chairs with straps and bungee cords were used to restrain or isolate young children.
(H.R. 4247) would establish the first federal standards to protect students from misuse of restraint and seclusion and ensure the safety of everyone in the classroom. It would apply to public schools, private schools and preschools receiving federal education support. Specifically the legislation would:
- Establish important minimum federal safety standards in schools, similar to the protections already in place in hospitals and other non-medical community based facilities
- Limit physical restraint and locked seclusion, allowing these interventions only when there is imminent danger of injury, and only when imposed by trained staff;
- Outlaw mechanical restraints, such as strapping kids to chairs, and prohibit restraints that restrict breathing;
- Require schools to notify parents after incidents when restraint or seclusion was used;
- Call on states, within two years of enactment, to establish their own policies, procedures, monitoring and enforcement systems to meet these minimum standards;
- Encourage states to provide support and training to better protect students and prevent the need for emergency behavioral interventions; and
- Increase transparency, oversight and enforcement tools to prevent future abuse.
The Education and Labor Committee plans to mark up the bill early next year.