On Thursday, Alexa Posny, the US Department of Education’s top special education official, said that by next fall, her office will issue guidelines to school districts about the use of restraints, seclusion and other aversive procedures in US public schools. Currently, regulation of the use of such procedures has been left to local and state supervision, with troubling and sometimes tragic results.
In 2002, 14-year-old Cedric Price of Killeen, Texas, suffocated while his middle school teacher put him in a “therapeutic floor hold” to “keep him from struggling during a disagreement over lunch.”
In 2001, Paige Gaydos, who is autistic, was put into a face-down prone restraint by a teacher in Cupertino, California. Her parents sued the Cupertino School District and were awarded $700,000 by a federal jury; they settled for $260,000 to avoid an appeal.
Meanwhile, a bill to protect school children from abusive restraint, seclusion and aversive interventions in public schools remains stalled in Congress. The bill was passed on March 3, 2010 by the U.S. House of Representatives but did not come up for consideration in the Senate. In April some congressmen again introduced the bill, HR 1381, in the House, but it has yet to be considered. (Please see the petition below to urge your representatives to support this important piece of legislation.)
EdWeek notes that some states “govern” the use of restraints and seclusion and some do not, citing the example of Florida’s Palm Beach County school district which voted on Wednesday “to make prone restraint — where a student is held face down with their arms and legs immobilized — allowed only as a last resort.”
Posny of the Department of Education addressed the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and I’m very heartened to know that the issue of restraints and seclusion is being discussed in regard to autistic children. My own son Charlie was placed numerous times in a type of restraint called a basket hold when he was 7-8 years in a public school in New Jersey. My husband and I had not given consent about the use of such procedures; we had not discussed their use in advance with the school staff and there was no mention of such restraints in Charlie’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a document that spells out teaching and other procedures. Many children who receive special education services, my son included, have a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), but basket holds were not part of Charlie’s.
In another New Jersey school district — which has a highly regarded and extensive autism program — the use of restraints was included in Charlie’s IEP and BIP as part of “crisis management.” However, the school district routinely failed to inform us immediately that restraints had been used. In one instance, we were not informed that “four person floor control” had been used on our son until two weeks later and via an “incident report” that we received in the mail.
The Cost of Waiting, a report on the use of restraint, seclusion and aversive procedures by disability advocacy organization TASH, details a number of cases — reported since last year’s bill — in which children have been injured while school staff used such procedures. The federal Government Accountability Office also has a report detailed report, Seclusion and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers.
National regulations about the use of restraints, seclusion and aversive procedures in public schools should not only address the dangers of these but provide, as Posny says in Disability Scoop, “clear policies surrounding the dignified and appropriate use of restraint and seclusion in truly dangerous situations.” Schools should use positive behavior supports and other pro-active techniques. Further, parents should know that they have legal rights about the use of restraints, seclusion and aversive procedures on their children and that the use of these can and must be detailed in an IEP and a BIP and only as a “last resort” in “crisis management” situations. Further, parents must be informed immediately after such practices are used.
My son Charlie has little language and has never been able to say when aversive procedures were used on him — which is not to say that he, and other students with disabilities, have been upset and scared because such practices were used on them in public schools.
Photo by roarofthefour.
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