What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Human Rights Abuses : (H.R. 4247) Passage of legislation prohibiting abusive restraint and seclusion as a means of disciplining students (2010 house Roll Call 82)
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(H.R. 4247) Passage of legislation prohibiting abusive restraint and seclusion as a means of disciplining students
house Roll Call 82     Mar 03, 2010
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This was a vote on passage of legislation to prohibit abusive restraint and seclusion as a means of disciplining students.

The bill would bar schools from using mechanical restraints, including duct-taping any parts of their bodies, and strapping them to chairs. Schools would also be prohibited from using "chemical restraints" on children -- such as medications intended to control behavior. (Such medications could only be administered in a manner consistent with a doctor's prescription.) The legislation prohibits schools from restricting students' breathing, or denying them food, water, clothing, or access to toilets in order to control their behavior.

Under the bill, students could be restrained or secluded only if there is an "imminent danger" of injury. If such disciplinary methods were used, the schools would be required to notify the parents of disciplined students following the incident.

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the committee that drafted the legislation, argued that a federal law was essential to guarantee children's safety in school: "Hundreds of students across the U.S. have been victims of this abuse. These victims include students with disabilities and students without disabilities. Many of these victims were children as young as 3 and 4 years of age. In some cases, children died. Restraint and seclusion are complicated practices. They are emergency interventions that should be used only as a last resort and only by trained professionals. But GAO found that too often these techniques are being used in schools under the guise of discipline or convenience. Last year, in my home State of California, there were more than 14,300 cases of seclusion, restraint, and other ``emergency interventions.'' We don't know how many of these cases were actual emergencies. We have Federal laws in place to prevent these types of abuses from happening in hospitals and other community-based facilities that receive Federal funding, but currently there are no Federal laws on the books to protect children from these abuses in the schools, where they spend most of their time. Without a Federal standard, State policies and oversight, they vary widely, leaving children vulnerable. Of the 31 States that have established some law or regulation, many are not comprehensive in approach and several only address restraint or address seclusion, not necessarily both."

Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) contended the bill would provide much needed protection for students with "unique behavioral issues," such as autism: "This legislation is an important step toward ending inhumane treatment of children with autism and other disabilities who, like all students, should be able to trust their educators and feel completely safe in their school environments. There are, of course, rare and extreme emergencies where it may be necessary to physically intervene. But we affirm today, Mr. Speaker, that any behavioral intervention must be consistent with a child's right to be treated with dignity and to be free from abuse. With the help of this bill, teachers and school personnel will be trained regularly, and parents will be kept informed on the policies which keep our schools orderly and safe and on the alternatives available to traditional forms of restraint and seclusion. I'm grateful to my friends in the autism advocacy community, including Autism Speaks and the Greenwich-based Friends of Autistic People, for their tireless work on this issue. Children with autism deserve the same rights available to all children, a free and appropriate education, safety and dignity."

Rep. John Kline (R-MN) argued the problem of abuse or injury in schools is a matter best left to the states, and contended the bill would lead to an explosion in litigation : " The question today is: Who is best equipped to create and enforce those policies? To answer that question, I would point to a letter from the Council of the Great City Schools, which States, ``Every injury to a student in school is a matter of serious concern, but all such incidents are not necessarily matters of Federal law.'' In fact, until recently, the U.S. Department of Education was not even collecting data on the use of seclusion and restraint tactics in schools. The Department has no experience or expertise regulating in this area. Yet, H.R. 4247 would establish a new, one-size-fits-all Federal framework that overrules the work of these states….Another likely consequence of H.R. 4247 is increased litigation. The bill's vague and overly broad language is an invitation to trial lawyers who will eagerly take every opportunity to sue school districts who grapple with confusing and stringent new requirements. H.R. 4247 creates a climate of legal dispute by expanding the role of the protection and advocacy system of State-based trial lawyers, a clear recognition that seclusion and restraint are to become litigation magnets. In fact, there's a very real danger that schools will stop addressing safety issues entirely out of fear they could be sued. Instead, schools may resort to law enforcement to manage physically disruptive or threatening students. This will mean fewer students in the classroom and more students in police handcuffs."

Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) argued that Democrats were using isolated incidents and insufficient data to justify a new federal law: "This is one of these bills you kind of go, Well, how could you possibly favor tying kids up and putting tape across them or letting people abuse them? That isn't what this is really about. I am going to make four basic points, which I know we have been making all afternoon, but there is no harm with repetition because they are important. One, there is no reliable data on how much use there is of these techniques. We've heard all sorts of individual horror stories that my sociology prof used to call ``my Aunt Annie stories.'' We have some real cases of abuse that need to be addressed. We have others of a wide variety. I, for example, would abhor most of them. I don't find being made to stand in a corner quite the same as some others might, but I think there is a wide range. We need to know how many of these are serious, how many of these justify intervention, and how many of them are things where there is a difference of opinion….We are saying that basically state legislators believe that their kids should be tied up, mouths taped, they should be abused, and they're too ignorant to fix this. Since when do we get to always determine the speed and kind of satisfactory level of intervention that a state does, particularly since we don't have the data to prove our case?"

The House passed the bill by a vote of 262-153. 238 Democrats and 24 Republicans voted "yea." 145 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House passed legislation to prohibit abusive restraint and seclusion as a means of disciplining students.

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