On Wednesday, March 3, the US House of Representatives will consider a piece of legislation that is of great importance to all parents, but especially to parents who have children with special needs.
In December 2009, families, advocates and education groups stood together with me to introduce landmark bipartisan legislation which will, for the first time, protect all children in schools from harmful uses of restraint and seclusion.
Last spring the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, released a report exposing hundreds of cases of schoolchildren being abused as a result of inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion, often involving untrained staff. These practices have resulted in numerous injuries and trauma to students and their families. The Committee also heard from families whose children died tragically due to these wrongful practices. A law already exists to regulate how and when restraint and seclusion can be used in hospitals and other medical and community-based facilities, but schools are not covered. State regulation and oversight varies greatly; many states provide no guidance or assistance regarding these behavioral interventions.
The Keeping All Students Safe Act (H.R. 4247) is a balanced approach to make classrooms safer for the entire school community, students and teachers. 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;
- Prohibit mechanical restraints, such as strapping kids to chairs, as well as 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.
This bill has been endorsed by over 100 organizations, including the National School Boards Association, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Disability Rights Network, The Arc of the United States, Council on Exceptional Children, as well as many others.