AP News

Bill would limit 'seclusion, restraint' in schools


WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate committee report released Wednesday raises concerns over whether parents are informed when their children are strapped down, physically restrained or placed in seclusion in school to punish or control them.

The review by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was based on several cases in which the practice known as "seclusion and restraint" was used. The cases highlighted included one in which closet-like rooms at an elementary school in Middletown, Ct., were allegedly used to leave children alone who were said to misbehave and another in which court records indicated a 7-year-old in a New Orleans school was handcuffed.

"When parents are told or discover their children have been subjected to these practices, it often explains why they have seen changes in their child's temperament, behavior or learning," the report said.

It found that 18 states require parents to be notified about the use of seclusion and restraints. It said 19 states have laws that provide "meaningful" protections against these practices for all children and 32 do for children with disabilities.

Committee Chairman Tom Harkin has introduced a bill that would prohibit the practice in schools. Under it, restraints would only be allowed in emergency situations and it would prohibit leaving school children in locked, unattended rooms or enclosures. Parents would also be notified within 24 hours that a restraint had been used on their child. Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., have unsuccessfully sought a federal law in past years to end the practice.

In response, national associations representing schools boards and superintendents in a joint statement said the bill would reduce the authority of states and districts.

"Restraint and seclusion are used as a last resort in situations that may endanger the safety and welfare of students, teachers and other school personnel," said the statement issued by the National School Boards Association and the School Superintendents Association. The statement said the associations agree with Harkin that the routine use of such measures is inappropriate.

Special education and disability advocates generally agree that these methods should be used only in emergency situations where there's a threat of someone getting hurt. But there's evidence to suggest the methods are used more commonly than that.

Civil rights data released from the 2009-2010 school year found tens of thousands of incidents of seclusion and restraint in U.S. schools with 70 percent of the incidents involving children with disabilities. The Senate committee staff said in the report it found 10 cases where children had been significantly injured or died due to these practices in their schools.

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Follow Kimberly Hefling on Twitter at http://twitter.com/khefling


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