December 10, 2009
U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd proposed legislation Wednesday to prevent a growing problem in public schools nationwide — the increasing use of restraints on troubled children.
Dodd and Rep. George Miller of California unveiled the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, a bill similar to legislation that Dodd helped pass in 1998 concerning restraints on children in psychiatric facilities.
Dodd proposed that bill after a series of stories in The Courant revealed that children were dying in psychiatric hospitals as they were being physically restrained by staff. The stories documented 142 deaths throughout the country over a 10-year period.
The new bill addresses many of the same issues — the lack of reporting, poor training of staff that apply the restraints and little oversight.
"The tragedies associated with the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint are not only unacceptable, they are unconscionable," Dodd said in a press release. "There is no place in our schools for what amounts to torture, and we need clear standards for the use of tactics that lead to the physical and psychological abuse of children. This legislation will set clear guidelines so that children and educators alike can be sure of a safe learning environment."
Earlier this year the Government Accountability Office released a 62-page report on the growing problem of restraints and seclusion in public schools.
"Although we could not determine whether allegations of death and abuse were widespread, we did discover hundreds of such allegations at public and private schools across the nation between the years 1990 and 2009," the GAO report said. "Almost all of the allegations we identified involved children with disabilities."
According to Dodd, the new bill would:
•Prohibit the use of restraint and seclusion unless a student's behavior poses an immediate danger of physical injury and less restrictive interventions would not work.
•Prohibit the use of any mechanical, chemical or physical restraint that restricts air flow to the lungs, and any other intervention that compromises health and safety.
•Require adequate training for school personnel who would impose restraints and seclusion.
•Require immediate parental notification and a school debriefing after an incident involving restraint or seclusion.
•Require states to create a plan incorporating minimum standards, and to report yearly on the number of restraint and seclusion incidents.
•Provide competitive grants to help develop and implement state plans, train and certify school personnel and implement positive behavioral supports.
•Instruct the U.S. Department of Education to give Congress an assessment that analyzes data on restraint and seclusion, and practices to prevent and reduce such incidents.
Dodd is a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and chairman of its subcommittee on children and families. Miller is chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
"Children should not be abused under the guise of discipline, but time after time, we've heard horrific accounts of what is nothing less than torture in classrooms at the hands of untrained staff," Miller said. "It is unbelievable that children have protections against harmful restraint and seclusion in other facilities, but not in school, where they spend the majority of their time."
The GAO report cited several deaths in public schools throughout the country, including a 7-year-old who died after being held face down for hours by school staff, 5-year-olds being tied to chairs with bungee cords and duct tape by their teacher and suffering broken arms and bloody noses, and a 13-year-old hanging himself in a seclusion room after prolonged confinement.
The report also concluded that no federal agency collects information on the use of these methods or the extent of their possible abuse.
Connecticut is far ahead of many states in dealing with physical restraints in public and private schools. It is one of only two states, along with California, that require annual reporting on the use of restraints, one of 17 states that require selected staff to receive training before being permitted to restrain children and one of 19 states that require parents to be notified after restraints have been used.