Yesterday, I was sent several E-mails alerting me to the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, that is being introduced in the U.S. congress. I was too overloaded to look up the text of the proposed bill, and even today when I thought I’d found it through this NPR blog post, it turned out to be an inaccessible PDF format. So, before I proceed, apologies if I get any information about this proposed legislation wrong.
The bill was inspired by several cases of death or serious injury to children secluded or restrained in schools, sometimes in entirely unsafe ways (eg. strapping a child to a chair). While disability rights groups are calling for the complete abolishment of restraint and seclusion in schools – and honestly speaking, I support them -, groups representing educators say that these measures are necessary for safety reasons. I wonder what “safety” means to them. Current practice indicates “not listening” is viewed as a legitimate reason for seclusion, but I wouldn’t believe anyone considers this a safety issue. The law would restrict it to immediate danger to the student themself or someone else, but even that seemingly strict wording, leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In the Netherlands, for example, a risk to other people’s psychological wellbeing, is a legitimate reason for seclusion or restraint. In other words, if someone becomes scared from another person’s meltdown, even if that meltdown doesn’t involve physical aggression, it is still danger. That is how I was found eligible for time-out. Also, if the person’s behavior might elicit another person’s aggression, this is also danger, warranting seclusion for the prospective victim, mind you. If the law restricts restraint and seclusion to immediate danger, I hope they mean an immediate threat to the student’s own or someone else’s physical safety.
Another controversial aspect in the proposed legislation, of course, involves the “last resort” wording. When a teacher is dealing with a class full of disruptive students, and the school is providing inappropriate educational support (just because a student has an IEP or behavior intervention plan, doesn’t mean it’ll be followed), it is easy for the teacher to decide that the most disruptive student warrants restraint or seclusion as a “last resort”, because the teacher is at the end of their rope. With respect to teachers’ experience of overburdening workloads, this is not anything the student calls for.
Now, I’m done with my criticism. After all, not perfect legislation is better than no legislation at all. I hope that this bill, even if it’s not perfect, will prevent the horrible cases of abuse in restraint and seclusion cases in schools. If you are in the U.S. and involved with disability rights activism, I hope you will call congress to urge them to support the bill.
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