By Corinne Ruth, NAMI policy intern and Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Child and Adolescent Action Center
The need to regulate restraint and seclusion in our nation’s schools just gained significant momentum with the release of a new report and an NPR article that highlights the need for immediate action. ProPublica analyzed data released by the U.S. Department of Education showing that there were 267,000 instances of restraining or secluding children in schools in one school year. The NPR article highlights an incident in which a young boy with autism panicked after being threatened with seclusion. When school officials tried to force him into the “quiet area” a small locked room, bones in his hand were crushed.
Despite claims that schools are limiting the use of restraint and seclusion, these unacceptably high numbers suggest otherwise. Some schools reported restraining or secluding students dozens and even hundreds of times each year. In 75 percent of these cases, restraint and seclusion was used with children with a disability including mental illness. Many of these instances of restraint and seclusion were improperly used when an emergency did not exist.
Congress has introduced The Keeping All Students Safe Act (HR 1893, S. 2036) to protect children from the unnecessary and harmful use of restraint and seclusion. This legislation allows restraint to be used when a student’s behavior poses an immediate danger of physical harm to that student or anyone else. For example a student may be restrained if they are striking other students, banging their head against the wall, “gouging their eyes”, or other related behaviors. In cases when restraint is used, the bill requires schools to notify the child’s parents and work with them to plan ways to better manage difficult behaviors in the future. The Keeping All Students Safe Act fosters a positive learning environment in schools by promoting interventions that help minimize disruptive classroom behaviors and instructing school staff in more effective ways of addressing students who may be in crisis.
Momentum is building for this legislation and we urge you to be a part by contacting your Congressional representatives to ask for their support and to use their leadership to move the legislation forward to a vote.