Monday, February 15, 2010

ACTION ALERT: Missouri HB 1543

Forwarded message from Ange Hemmer of MO Families against Seclusion & Restraint:

**Note: This [bill] effects ALL students, but disproportianatley effects children with disabilitites. Legislators state that the intent of the of the bill is to protect teachers, but the law (even if unintentionally) would leave students at serious risk.**

Missouri HB 1543, a proposed state omnibus bill dealing in part to improve school safety, is continuing the use of corporal punishment in schools and adding the vague language “use of force to protect persons or property”. This bill is far from the minimal standards set forth by proposed federal legislation HR 4247 and SB 2860.

The proposed language in Missouri HB 1543 does not protect teachers or students in several ways:

  • Does not define “use of force,” “to protect persons or property,” “reasonable,” or “certificated personnel
  • Does not require notification to parents if schools apply “use of force” or “spanking”
  • Does allow any school personnel to apply “use of force” but only allows “certificated personnel” to apply “spanking” (certificated in what?)
  • Does not require any follow up (such as a visit to school nurse) to ensure applying “use of force” or “spanking” was in fact “reasonable” nor any methods as to avoid future applying of “use of force” or “spanking”
  • Does not ban proven deadly “use of force” (restraints) such as those that restrict breathing (e.g., prone restraint)
  • Does not ban “spanking”. There was an amendment to ban spanking of special education students, but this has been withdrawn as of 2/10/2010
  • Does not allow Children's services to conduct an investigation if abuse allegations are due to “spanking” oruse of force to protect persons or property”. (To understand more about the convoluted investigation process, go here

Who determines what is “reasonable”?

We would like to believe that school districts and school personnel can determine, with good judgment, what constitutes what is “reasonable”, but even stories over the past month show this not to be the case (see below). Not all schools or teachers are bad and many, if not most, have good judgment and intent; however, this bill does not protect those students who are attending schools or who have teachers that are using poor judgment and are abusing corporal punishment and/or use of force nor does it protect students or personnel when personnel hasn’t had access to adequate training and support.

Corporal punishment/use of force

According to The Center for Effective Discipline, Missouri is one of only 20 states that still allows corporal punishment (in Missouri’s case “spanking” is allowed) in schools:

Missouri model policy in progress

Experts in the state of Missouri (designated as such by DESE in agreement with Missouri statute) agree that the use of force such as restraint and seclusion should only be used in cases of imminent harm and that certain forms of restraint should not be used (e.g., prone restraint). Local, state, and national experts in the fields of education and behavior management agree that focus should be on de-escalation and positive methods of preventing behavior.

Federal legislation in progress

The federal government is currently working on legislation to avoid the misuse and abuse of seclusion and restraint (a type of “use of force”) in part because states and local school districts shave failed to do so. The federal bills in progress (HR 4247 and SB 2860) are consistent with the Children’s Health Act of 2000 and federal protections already in place in other settings.

Take action: protect the teachers and the students

  • Call your state representatives and senators and tell them that the provision regarding “spanking” and “use of force” in HB 1543 does not protect teachers, students, or school districts. At a minimum, Missouri should:
    • Ban deadly “use of force” (i.e., restraints) such as those that restrict breathing (e.g., prone restraint)
    • Define what is “reasonable”, for example in other areas as of HB 1543 “acts of violence” is used and in federal bill “imminent harm” is used
    • Ban corporal punishment
    • Require parent permission/notification when “use of force” or “spanking” (if left in bill) is applied
    • Require minimal training in positive interventions, de-escalation, and safe methods of “use of force”
  • Call your federal representatives and tell them to support HR 4247 and SB 2860. We need a minimal federal baseline to keep students and school staff safe. It is clear that even with current information, states such as Missouri are missing the point!

Government Contacts

Ange Hemmer
Missouri: Families Against Seclusion and Restraint

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