It was exactly a year ago today that the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) unveiled “School Is Not Supposed to Hurt,” a national report on the use of seclusion and restraint in U.S. schools and called on the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress to introduce a national ban on seclusion and prone restraint practices in schools in the US. (Go here for a PDF file of the report.) Another report released in May from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found “hundreds of allegations that schoolchildren have been abused, and some even died, as a result of inappropriate uses of seclusion and restraint in classrooms.”
This report found that such “abusive practices” had been used “disproportionately on children with disabilities”—on those most vulnerable and (especially in the case of children like my son, who is minimally verbal) often unable to communicate to their parents what has happened.
On December 9 of 2009, new legislation was proposed to stop these harmful and dangerous practices. The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247) prohibits the use of restraints and seclusion in public schools in the US. Physical restraint and seclusion would only be permitted in cases of “imminent danger of injury, and only when imposed by trained staff.” Further, should these be used, parents must be notified immediately—my husband and I were once informed that a “four-person floor control” restraint was used on our son over two weeks after this had occurred.
In addition, a child should be examined by a nurse or other medical personnel after restraints and seclusion have been used. At my son’s previous public middle school in a central New Jersey school district, he was never examined by the school nurse after restraints had been used.
H.R. 4247 also prohibits schools from “including restraint or seclusion as planned interventions in student’s education plans, including Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).” The Wrightslaw website notes that the American Association of School Administrators and other organizations are lobbying to weaken H.R. 4247 and to allow schools to put such “abusive interventions” as restraints and interventions in students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Restraints and seclusion should only be used in crisis situations when all other interventions have been exhausted. As Wrightslaw notes, IEPs are not a “backdoor” for school districts” to “get around statutes.”
“Too often, parents have been misled into consenting to restraint and seclusion in IEPs only to find out their children have been abused, injured, and traumatized.”
Further analysis of H.R. 4247 by Jessica Butler, an attorney and the mother of an autistic child, can be found here. Butler is a former Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates(COPAA) and the author of Unsafe in the Schoolhouse: Abuse of Children with Disabilities (COPAA 2009).
Why we need H.R. 4247 is made all too clear by an article in the December 2009 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel according to which the Greenfield school district in Wisconsin is using federal stimulus funds earmarked for special education to construct seclusion rooms. As Wrightslaw blog notes, these funds would be “better spent training teachers on methods of controlling special-education student behavior without removing kids from their peers”—better spent on teaching teachers to teach students, rather than building what amount to isolation rooms.
Seclusion and restraints are inhumane practices that have been unjustly and unnecessarily used on students, on children, on children with disabilities, and on children on the autism spectrum in public schools in the US. Such practices have caused permanent harm, psychological as well as physical. It is inconceivable that children, and especially children with disabilities, are being subjected to such and also to isolation intimeout rooms, sometimes for hours; to practices that seem more like punishment, if not torture, and that are certainly a far, far cry from being “educational.”
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Photo of classroom by dave_mcmt.
Kristina Chew, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Classics at Saint Peter's College in New Jersey. Since 2005, she has been blogging about autism, disabilities, and education, previously at Autism Vox and now at We Go With Him, a daily journal about life with her 12 1/2 year old son Charlie.