Senate Committee Considers Positive Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint of School Children

Print More

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

WASHINGTON - Corey Foster, 16, was playing basketball with his friends at his school in Yonkers, N.Y., in April, when a staff member asked them to leave the court. What happened next is in dispute, with witnesses describing aggressive staff who escalated the situation and school officials who deny that. But the conflict ended with several staff members on top of Corey, who suffered cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at a hospital later that day.

“It wasn’t known to me that they were touching my son,” said Sheila Foster, Corey’s mother, who was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday for a Senate committee hearing  in support of federal restrictions on restraint techniques in schools. “If I had known Corey was being touched or tied or restrained, I wouldn’t have had him in that school.”

Foster was on Capitol Hill at a hearing, held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, on how schools can adopt positive alternatives to isolating students in rooms or restraining them in response to challenging student behavior. Witnesses included school administrators from Georgia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, who testified about the results they have achieved using individualized plans to encourage good behavior.

The issue of restraints and seclusion at schools has gained public attention in recent years, driven by the inclusion of more special-needs children in mainstream schools after the passage of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Students were restrained nearly 39,000 times during the 2009 to 2010 school year, with nearly 70 percent of incidents involving students with disabilities, said Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in his introductory remarks at the hearing, citing data by the U.S. Department of Education. Data released in March revealed racial disparities as well, Harkin said: African-American students, who make up 21 percent of students with disabilities, represented 44 percent of those restrained mechanically.

Such “outdated and outmoded” practices often exacerbate the behavior that they were intended to curb, and for some children, result in injury or even death, Harkin said. “Positive behavioral interventions and supports can reduce or completely eliminate the need for these procedures,” Harkin said.

Harkin and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) have introduced Senate and House versions of the Keeping All Children Safe Act, S.B. 2020 and H. B. 1381, which prohibits the use of chemical and mechanical restraints, and the use of physical restraints in a way that constrict a student’s breathing.

Harkin’s version for the Senate bill also prohibits seclusion, only allows the use of physical restraint on students in case of emergencies and mandates staff to use the least amount of force necessary. It also emphasizes parental notification within 24 hours of an incident.

The legislation, which by Harkin’s own admission appears unlikely to pass a deadlocked Congress this year, has widespread support from dozens of organizations who work or advocate for people with disabilities, including the National Autism Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Association of People with Disabilities.

But other groups, like the American Association of School Administrators, vehemently oppose any effort to create federal limits on seclusion and restraint practices in schools, saying that the majority of school staff uses such practices correctly and that such limits put staff in danger. Nearly half of all school personnel who have received training in seclusion and restraint techniques were attacked by a student one to five times during the 2010 to 2011 school year, according a March report by AASA.

In May, the Department of Education released 15 principles that schools and parents should follow when deciding whether to use restraints on students or to isolate them from their peers. Such advice “would go a long way” in preventing dangerous behavior if schools were to follow it faithfully, says APRAIS, a consortium of dozens of organizations that work with people with disabilities.

“However,” APRAIS wrote in a letter supporting the adoption of federal legislation limiting the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, “these principles are voluntary and offer families no recourse if schools do not choose to follow them.”

Foster, whose son Corey died after being restrained by school staff, hopes her advocacy can help grant recourse to other parents.

“While I cannot bring my son back, I can advocate for other children,” she said.

3 thoughts on “Senate Committee Considers Positive Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint of School Children

  1. I agree that this methodology is the same which has been in IDEA for years. It was used on my own child… and the result was PTSD. They experimented on my child with the Functional assessment and he was traumatized. What we need are teachers who are willing to take each child as an individual, and we do not need legislation which mandates only one methodology, when not every treatment or method works for all kids. The groups which are pushing PBIS have refused to discuss harm data. There are children in GA who were experimented on at the psychoed’s or GNETS, and I know this because I personally know some of the families of children who were forced into this. Now, with this bill, if a parent disagrees, they will have to sue. If the school does not use this on my child, he will be denied a FAPE. Really. According to the bil, that would be true. And, the system will be able to say it has not denied FAPE because they were only following orders, or the rules. So they want to be able to do Functional Analysis on kids who have Reactive Attachment, PTSD, and Autism. This is not right for anyone.

  2. Both S2020 and HR 1381 take away choice and codifies ONE ABA rooted therapy called “Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS)” for ALL students. PBIS is the very reason why we have restraint and seclusion in our schools, because it was codified in 97 in IDEA for use on children with disabilities or whose behavior interrupts their learning or the learning of others. We’ve been paying for ABA rooted therapies for over 30 years and things have NOT gotten better 🙁
    And most of the organizations who want this bill are those who want to continue to waste our hard earned tax dollars from the government funded entities who are pushing for these “therapies”. I’d like the Senate to provide the American taxpayer with how much harm this “therapy” has caused children and their families, especially those with autism. These Bills take away choice 🙁

    • My friend comment was being moderated, so I will chime in… to say that we need to be cautious about what is codified. This methodology is the same which has been in IDEA for years. It was used on my own child… and the result was PTSD. They experimented on my kid… with the Functional assessment and he was traumatized. What we need are teachers who are willing to take each child as an individual, and we do not need legislation which mandates only one methodology, when not every treatment or method works for all kids. The groups which are pushing PBIS have refused to discuss harm data. There are children in GA who were experimented on at the psychoed’s or GNETS, and I know this because I personally know some of the families of children who were forced into this. Now, with this bill, if a parent disagrees, they will have to sue. If the school does not use this on my child, he will be denied a FAPE. Really. According to the bil, that would be true. And, the system will be able to say it has not denied FAPE because they were only following orders, or the rules. So they want to be able to do Functional Analysis on kids who have Reactive Attachment, PTSD, and Autism… yes the do!