A first of its kind, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act has been introduced to set national standards for the practices of controlling disruptive and potentially dangerous students. The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and in the Senate by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) in early December 2009, was in response to two studies revealing hundreds of cases across the nation of the misuse of restraint and seclusion. These methods were disproportionately being used on students with disabilities, leaving many traumatized, injured and, in extreme cases, dead.
The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), comprised of attorneys who tackle civil rights cases for the disabled, released "School is Not Supposed to Hurt" in January 2009, a study which reported scores of cases of abuse against disabled students that included being pent down, strapped to chairs, held in arm locks, and locked in closets. This triggered interest from Rep. Miller, who commissioned a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Its findings, released in May 2009, concurred with those of NDRN, detailing hundreds of allegations of abuse, many ending in civil suits and criminal convictions.
Until now, laws regarding restraint and seclusion have differed by state. "We looked across the country and saw there were no federal laws," says Greg Kutz, managing director of forensics, audits and special investigations for the GAO. "Some states had regulations, while others had none."
The bill aims to protect children against improper methods of restraint and seclusion by regulating when these techniques can be used and what training the school faculty must go through.
"Children are being restrained for destroying a book or throwing a pencil," says Jane Hudson, senior staff attorney for NDRN . "These acts don't require the level of restraint being used."
The bill would not ban restraint and seclusion entirely, however, as educators feel they can be necessary when there is severe risk to the student or to others.
"This is a great piece of legislation that we are highly supportive of," says Eric Buehlmann, director of public policy at NDRN. "This bill is a good compromise, and we feel comfortable moving forward with it."
Buehlmann hopes the bill will continue to gain sponsors and suspects it will pass easily in early 2010.