03/04/2010

House Passes Bill Limiting Use of Restraints in Classrooms

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on March 3 that is designed to protect students from the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in classrooms. The AFT is among a large group of organizations that support the Keeping All Students Safe Act (H.R. 4247), which passed with bipartisan support in a 262-153 vote.

The bill was a response to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last spring that exposed hundreds of alleged cases of schoolchildren being abused due to the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion, often involving untrained staff. The victims were children as young as 3 and 4, and included students with disabilities and without disabilities, and students in both public and private schools. In a number of cases, children died. In some of the cases, ropes, duct tape, and chairs with straps and bungee cords were used to restrain or isolate young children.

Unlike in hospitals and other community-based facilities that receive federal taxpayer dollars, there are currently no federal laws that address how and when restraint and seclusion can be used on children in public and private schools.

The Keeping All Students Safe Act would establish, for the first time, minimum federal standards to provide equal protections to all students. It would make clear that physical restraint or locked seclusion should be used only when there is imminent danger of injury, and only when imposed by trained staff. The law would prohibit mechanical restraints, such as strapping children to chairs, misusing therapeutic equipment to punish students or duct-taping parts of their bodies. It also prohibits any restraint that restricts breathing.

As the legislation moves forward, the AFT is working to ensure that:

  • Educators have plans for contingencies, particularly for those students who require ongoing medical support or those whose behavior warrants a behavior intervention plan;
  • A reasonable expectation is set for when parent notification should occur and who should notify parents. At the very least, written notification should be sufficient until a meeting can occur.
  • Relevant professional development on the use of restraint and seclusion is funded. Too often, funds are diverted or diluted from their original purposes, and we worry that the same will happen here but that the mandate for training will remain; and
  • Data is collected on the number of staff injured as a result of restraining students who posed a danger to themselves or others.

While the legislation still needs to pass the Senate, the AFT is urging affiliates to look at their schools' existing policies on restraint and seclusion to make sure they are consistent with what is in the legislation.

March 4, 2010