COPAA: Lobby for Passage of Federal Restraint-Seclusion Bill

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates is inviting other organizations to sign a petition offering support for the bill currently being considered in Congress that would ban restraint and seclusion of kids as a means of dealing with behavior issues. In its letter, COPAA writes that, currently, only 11 states have measures on the books that protect students from non-emergency physically dangerous restraints and only 12 states protect students with special needs or disabilities from non-emergency seclusion. The H.R 1381 and its companion S.2020, the Keeping All Students Safe Act, would make such practices illegal on the federal level.

Schools in the states that don’t have laws on the books limiting restraints and seclusion often use these methods to not only protect students from imminent self-harm, but also to deal with relatively minor discipline problems such as failure to pay attention in class and tantrums. COPAA alleges that some staff members even use them for their own convenience, with more than half the states not even requiring that the children’s parents or guardians be notified when they are used.

While COPAA is lobbying — and asking other organizations to lobby — Congress to pass the bill, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Board Association are fighting against it. The NSBA, in particular, is seeking to include a provision in the legislature draft language that would exempt states that already have a restraint/seclusion policy on the books.

The National School Board Association (NSBA) is seeking an exemption from the bill for any state with a policy–no matter how limited or whether it is entirely non-binding and could be eliminated tomorrow by fiat. NSBA is also seeking to remove the critically important provision that prohibits the use of restraint or seclusion into a planning document or the Individualized Education Program (IEP).

According to a brief released earlier this year, the prohibition against inclusion of restraints and seclusion in IEPs is vitally important, since only special needs students are subject to such education planning documents, and they are already more likely to be subjected to this means of discipline.

The IDEA requires that to the extent possible, services included on a student’s IEP be based on peer-reviewed research. Proponents of restraint and seclusion have cited no research, peer-reviewed or otherwise, to establish that restraint and seclusion serve any legitimate educational purpose or that they are even effective. In fact, the only peer-reviewed research of which we are aware demonstrates that restraint and seclusion do not have any treatment or educational value and that no amount or type of staff training can assure their safe use. (Haimowitz, Urff, and Huckshorn, 2006; Harper, 2003; Nunno, Holden, and Tollar 2006). Indeed, Section 2 of this bill expressly finds, as documented by at least three recent reports, that restraint and seclusion have been responsible for injury and death to children in the education setting, as well as in other settings.

In setting down IEPs, educators should instead follow similar guidelines as mental health professionals when deciding treatment plans that prohibit the use of such practices as planned interventions for children with mental illness because they are considered ineffective and possibly harmful.