Today, too many students, especially students with disabilities, are subject to seclusion and restraint at school by their teachers, principals, and other staff. There are disturbing reports that students have been locked in closets and classrooms, pinned to the ground for prolonged periods, and subject to behavior-controlling drugs not prescribed by a physician. While these actions can often be terrifying for the student, what’s even more alarming is that many children have been severely injured or died because of this practice. While harmful seclusion and restraint of children are barred in hospitals and other settings, schools continue to operate under a patchwork of unclear state and local laws and policies, rather than a clear nationwide ban on these harmful practices.
Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman George Miller have introduced legislation to prohibit the practice of inappropriate seculsion and restraint in our nation's public schools. These bills, the Keeping All Students Safe Act, would establish critical standards in schools aimed at providing similar protections to those provided in hospitals from abusive practices of seclusion and restraint. Specifically the bills would prohibit strapping students to chairs, restrict medications used to control behavior to those that are administered with a physician's approval, limit physical restraint to situations that may pose a serious danger to the student or other students, train teachers on alternatives to seclusion and restraint, and notify parents when any seclusion or restraint technique has been used on their student.
Senator Harkin has announced a hearing on his legislation on June 28th. The U.S. Department of Education also recently released principles aimed at reducing the abuse of seclusion and restraint. The release of these principles is important, but the attention of Congress to this issue is long overdue.