Preventing Harmful Restraint in Schools Act Introduced in Congress

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     Last Wednesday December 9th, U.S. Representatives George Miller (D. California) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R. Washington) introduced H.R. 4247, The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. This legislation follows reports by the Government Accounting Office  and the National Disability Rights Network regarding the inappropriate and abusive uses of restraint and seclusion in schools. In some cases, children have died. There are many more children with disabilities subjected to seclusion and restraint in schools than children without disabilities. In introducing the legislation Representative Miller said: "Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms. In some cases, the abuses these kids are suffering are nothing short of torture inflicted at the hands of the very staff we entrust with their safety. Today is a critical first step toward finally ending this nightmare of abuse and ensuring that all classrooms are safe for students, their teachers, and the entire school communities." Senator Christopher Dodd has introduced a companion bill S.2860 in the U.S. Senate.

     This legislation is necessary because, unlike hospitals and other medical and community based facilities that receive federal funding, there are currently no federal laws that address seclusion and restraint in schools. The oversight and regulation of this issue by states is not uniform and many states do not provide any guidance regarding the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. Thus, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act would establish the first federal standards to protect students from the inappropriate and abusive use of restraint and seclusion. Once enacted, the legislation would apply  to public schools, private schools, and preschools that receive federal support. The legislation would:

• Ban the use of mechanical restraints, such as strapping kids to chairs;

• Ban the use of restraints that restrict breathing;

• Ban the use of aversives that compromise health and safety;

• Establish 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;

• Require schools to notify parents after incidents when restraint or seclusion was used;

• Call on states, within two years of the bill's passage, to establish their own policies, procedures, monitoring, and enforcement systems to meet the minimum standards established by the bill;

• Encourage states to provide support and training to better protect students and prevent the need for the emergency use of restraint and seclusion;

• Increase transparency, oversight, and enforcement tools to prevent future abuse;

• Ensures that state Protection and Advocacy Systems have the authority to investigate, monitor, and enforce, the protections provided for students under the Act.

     My office is Colorado's Protection and Advocacy System and we have investigated numerous allegations involving the abusive use of restraint and seclusion in schools in Colorado. Colorado is a state that has a state Protection of Persons from Restraint Act, but our state law does not provide a mechanism for parents and others to file complaints or otherwise enforce  our state law.  Our investigations have found that school staff generally have the best intentions but they frequently do not have adequate training in the requirements of our state law, do not have adequate training in positive behavioral interventions that can be used to avoid the use of restraint, and do not have adequate staff resources. If enacted, this legislation will provide much-needed uniform protections for students nationwide and in two years will require Colorado and other states to provide a process to enforce the law.