On April 6, 2011, U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced The Keeping All Students Safe Act, legislation designed to prevent
school children from being abused as a result of inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion. Government investigations have found that these abusive practices are used disproportionately
against children with disabilities such as autism and most often at the hands of inadequately trained staff. The legislation first passed the House a year ago with bipartisan support, yet never became law.
Since the bill failed in March 2010, dozens of instances of maltreatment have been reported across the nation. Children have been tied up with duct tape, sat on by untrained staff and locked in rooms for hours at a time – abuses tantamount to torture.
The Keeping All Students Safe Act would introduce minimum safety standards to prevent abusive restraint and seclusion in schools across the country. Similar protections already exist in medical and community based facilities, but like corporal punishment, public schools are the last bastion of unrestricted child abuse. After two years, states will be required to have their own policies in place to meet new minimum standards, which would apply to all schools and preschools receiving federal education support.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that abusive restraint and seclusion were widespread in schools across the country. Typically inflicted by untrained personnel, these practices were largely used as a routine disciplinary tactic, rather than in response to an emergency.
Seclusion in this context means the act of involuntarily confining students in areas by themselves. Restraint is a restriction of an individual’s freedom of movement. Restraint can and has become fatal when it blocks air to the lungs. Ropes, duct tape, chairs with straps and bungee cords have been used to retrain or isolate young children in some of the cases examined.
Only twenty-three states have meaningful restraint and seclusion laws or regulations. Currently, only thirteen states ban the use of restraints that impede breathing, only ten states ban mechanical restraint and ten states ban chemical restraints.
Specifically, the legislation would:
• Allow physical restraint or locked seclusion only when there is imminent danger of injury, and only when imposed by trained staff;
• Prohibit the use of any mechanical restraint, such as strapping children to chairs, misusing therapeutic equipment to punish students, or duct-taping parts of their bodies;
• Prohibit chemical restraint, meaning medications used to control behavior that are not administered consistent with a physician’s prescription;
• Prohibit any restraint that restricts breathing;
• Prohibit aversive behavioral interventions that compromise health and safety, such as denying students water, food, or clothing, denying access to toilet facilities, or using noxious stimuli such as pepper spray in order to control behavior;
• Prohibit schools from including restraint or seclusion as planned interventions in student’s education plans, including Individualized Education Programs (IEPs); and
• Require schools to notify parents after incidents when restraint or seclusion was used.
It’s remarkable that in 2011, this legislation is even necessary. The reality of just how barbaric our school systems actually are is utterly shocking. One of my own children suffered such abominations and it scarred him for life. It rendered him anti-authoritarian, a logical consequence, but one not conducive to attending school. It pains me because I know why he feels the way he does, yet I want him to be able to access education and have a range of choices about his future.
Attention to the issues of corporal punishment and isolation and restraint are long overdue in a country that considers itself a leader among civilized nations. As the number of cases of autism continue to explode, the heat is on to develop best practices for educating children on the spectrum.