Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 11:59 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010
Posted: 11:48 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010
Port Orange Republican Dorothy Hukill's legislation restricting seclusion and restraint of Florida schoolchildren earned the state representative national notice.
"Florida was going to be the model for other states to follow," said Lori Mcllwain, a spokeswoman for the 10,000-member American Autism Association.
By the time it got to the governor's desk, though, Hukill's bill was stripped of its toughest provision: Instead of banning prone restraint, the bill was altered to bar restraint that can restrict a child's breathing.
"They took a good bill that had protective language for children with disabilities and gutted the bill, took out all the safety precautions," said Phyllis Musumeci, a mother whose son was forcibly held in a prone restraint more than 20 times at a Palm Beach County school. The Autism Association agreed: In a 180-degree turn, the group urged a letter writing campaign to persuade Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the bill.
"Was it as strong as I would have liked it to be? No," said Hukill of the new law, which took effect this year. "Am I delighted that we are finally addressing the problem? Absolutely."
Even so, parts of the new law may not be as effective as hoped. Take training. Provisions call for enhanced training to offset risk. When it comes to prone restraint, though, Ohio's search of national literature doesn't support that idea, said Michael Rench, Ohio Rehabilitative Services Commission Administrator. Ohio last year banned prone restraint by most government employees, including teachers. "Everything we found was that it just is not safe even when applied by well-trained individuals," he said. As an example, Mark Kamleiter, a St. Petersburg lawyer and former public school behavioral specialist said prone restraint frequently calls for two or more people to apply force. One person may know the amount of force he is applying, but wouldn't necessarily know how much force the other person is applying. "You can hurt the child by accident," he points out.
For instance, 12-year-old Michael Wiltsie died in an Ocala youth camp in 2000 after a counselor pinned him to the ground. A grand jury found that the counselor was following proper procedures.
"You cannot train a person how to safely do a prone restraint," said Barbara Trader, executive director of TASH, a Washington advocacy group for people with disabilities. "It's not possible."
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