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Answer Sheet
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 06/28/2012

Keeping students safe: a bill even this Congress should be able to pass

There are some things which even this polarized Congress should be able to come together to accomplish.

One of those would be the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which would protect schoolchildren from abusive use of physical restraints and solitary confinement by mandating minimum safety standards in public schools.

According to the U.S. Education Department, a number of reports, including one in 2009 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office have discussed cases in which the improper use of restraint and seclusion has harmed children and in some instances led to death. Furthermore, the department said, “There is no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective in reducing the occurrence of the problem behaviors that frequently precipitate the use of such techniques.”

Last month, the department issued guidance to states on policies and guidelines on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, but they are non-binding.

The House actually passed the bill in 2010 with bipartisan support (262-153), but that’s as far as it went, and yet again, there is a bill in the House and the Senate that could be voted on if legislators would just get their act together.

Why, you may wonder (as I did) did 153 members vote against it in 2010? According to SolitaryWatch.com, most of the objections made in speeches by legislators on the House floor referred to states’ rights. (Some objections made no sense; Texas’s Louie Gohmert was quoted as saying that the bill showed that states and local school boards are “a bunch of morons” because they “can’t figure out that sitting on a precious little child and killing ‘em is inappropriate.”)

The American Association of School Administrators opposes the bills, saying any federal legislation on this issue would undermine the ability of school officials to deal with students who have severe behavioral disorders.

A report the organization released last March documented the danger that school personnel sometimes find themselves in when working with troubled students. From a press release on the report:

• 25 percent of school districts surveyed by AASA reported that at least 20 times in the last school year, an administrator, teacher, paraprofessional, aide, or other school professional trained in proper seclusion and restraint techniques has been physically threatened or attacked by a student.

• 30 percent of school districts surveyed by AASA responded that within the last five years, there have been at least five hospitalizations of school staff due to unanticipated behavioral outbursts by students.

Danger to school staff is obviously a very real issue that deserves more attention as well.

But federal protections being sought in schools by this bill already exist in hospitals and non-medical community-based facilities.

State laws on seclusion and restraint vary widely. For example, fewer than 20 prohibit restraints that restrict breathing and fewer than a dozen prohibit chemical restraints.

The Keeping All Students Safe Act, according to govtrack.com, would, among other things, direct the education secretary to establish minimum standards that:

(1) prohibit elementary and secondary school personnel from managing any student by using any mechanical or chemical restraint, physical restraint or escort that restricts breathing, or aversive behavioral intervention that compromises student health and safety;

(2) prohibit such personnel from using physical restraint or seclusion, unless such measures are required to eliminate an imminent danger of physical injury to the student or others and certain precautions are taken;

(3) require states and local educational agencies to ensure that a sufficient number of school personnel receive state-approved crisis intervention training and certification in first aid and certain safe and effective student management techniques;

(4) prohibit physical restraint or seclusion from being written into a student’s education plan, individual safety plan, behavioral plan, or individual education program as a planned intervention; and
(5) require schools to establish procedures to notify parents in a timely manner if physical restraint or seclusion is imposed on their child.

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 06/28/2012

 
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