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Proposed Federal Law Would Regulate the Use of Restraint and Seclusion

Members of Congress today introduced legislation to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion on students in schools, and require any use of such practices to be reported to parents.

The proposed law would establish the first federal safety standards in schools for the use of restraint and seclusion, similar to rules in place in hospitals and non-medical community-based facilities. Regulations on the practices of restraint and seclusion vary from state to state.

A Government Accountability Office report in May found allegations that children had been abused, or even died, because of misuse of restraint and seclusion in schools. Many of the children on whom these practices are used are students with disabilities. The practices are meant to be used in emergencies when students are a danger to themselves or others.

U.S. Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., proposed the bill in the House, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., proposed a similar law in the Senate.

"Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms," Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, who requested the GAO's investigation, said in a statement to reporters. "In some cases, the abuses these kids are suffering are nothing short of torture inflicted at the hands of the very staff we entrust with their safety. Today is a critical first step toward finally ending this nightmare of abuse and ensuring that all classrooms are safe for students, their teachers, and the entire school communities."

The law would ban the use of mechanical restraints, such as strapping kids to chairs, and prohibit restraints that restrict breathing. It would prohibit the use of medications to control behavior that were not administered consistent with prescriptions from a doctor. It would ban staff members from denying students water, food, clothing, or access to toilet facilities to control behavior. States would be required to report the use of restraint and seclusion to the U.S. Secretary of Education, according to the House Education and Labor Committee.

States would have two years to develop policies, procedures, and monitoring and enforcement systems to meet the minimum federal safety standards. Federal funds could be withheld from states that do not meet the requirements, the committee Web site said.

Advocacy groups cheered the proposed law.

"There is a long history of students with disabilities being subjected to inappropriate and abusive seclusions and restraints," Ari Ne-eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, said in a statement. "The legislation introduced today is the first of its kind, going far beyond previous efforts to protect students with disabilities.

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