Legislative watch: Bill to curtail restraint and seclusion in schools

Democratic members of Congress have reintroduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which would make it illegal for schools receiving federal money to seclude children and would ban certain restraint practices.
By: | November 20, 2020
Getty Images, Klaus VedfeltGetty Images, Klaus Vedfelt

Continuing efforts to address restraint and seclusion in schools, Democratic members of Congress have reintroduced a bill to prevent and reduce restraint and seclusion discipline practices.

The Keeping All Students Safe Act is sponsored by members of the House Committee of Education and Labor and members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

First introduced two years ago, the bill would make it illegal for schools receiving federal taxpayer money to seclude children and would ban dangerous restraint practices that restrict children’s breathing, such as prone or supine restraint. It would prohibit schools from physically restraining children, except when necessary to protect students and staff.

The legislation resumes a push for positive school climate policies that prioritize counseling over criminalization, according to Wendy Tucker, senior policy director for the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

Committee leaders cited the Office for Civil Right’s Civil Rights Data Collection data released in October. The report revealed that 101,990 students were subjected to seclusion or restraint in SY 2017-18. The data showed that 78 percent of students restrained or secluded were students with disabilities who were disproportionately identified as Black male students.

“Prior years’ data were bad,” says Tucker. “That data was worse. Restraint and seclusion are bad for all kids, but particularly for students with disabilities and Blacks students with disabilities.”

In a statement, NCSECS Executive Director Lauren Morando Rhim applauded how the bill links restrictions with funding to schools to support personnel training in the use of de-escalation techniques, conflict management, and evidence-based positive behavioral interventions and supports.

The bill is expected to better equip school personnel with the training to address school-expected behavior with evidence-based proactive strategies, require states to monitor the law’s implementation, and increase transparency and oversight to prevent future abuse of students.

“Children need to be safe, in the classroom, learning and progressing. If their behavior challenges interfere with learning or the safety of others, they deserve to have evidence-based practices used by trained personnel.” —Denise Marshall, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

“This approach will help schools support the needs of students, safely address the source of their behaviors, and protect their access to instruction—a better result for everyone,” said Rhim.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates CEO Denise Marshall adds that state action alone has not curbed the imposition of these dangerous restraint and seclusion practices.

“The imposition of restraint in schools is the failure of education,” says Marshall. “Seclusion has no place there at all. Children need to be safe, in the classroom, learning and progressing. If their behavior challenges interfere with learning or the safety of others, they deserve to have evidence-based practices used by trained personnel.”

“[The Keeping All Students Safe Act] draws a clear line to say no child should be left alone in a locked room in school, and harmful restraint should only be used when absolutely necessary,” she says.

Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.