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House OKs Rules on Restraint and Seclusion in Schools

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill late this afternoon that would for the first time federally regulate the use of restraint and seclusion on students in schools, and require any use of such practices to be reported to parents.

The bill, known as Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, passed by a vote of 262-153. The 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 nonmedical, community-based facilities. Regulations on the practices of restraint and seclusion vary from state to state. News reports said the main objections came from some Republican lawmakers who argued that states should decide such matters.

"It's time to end this nightmare of abuse that has hurt too many students, classmates, families, and school communities," U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a written statement. "This bill simply says that every child, in every school, in every state deserves the same basic level of protections that they currently receive in hospitals."

A report by the congressional Government Accountability Office last May found allegations that children had been abused, or even died, because of the misuse of restraint and seclusion in schools.

Many of the children on whom those practices are used are students with disabilities. The practices are intended to be used in emergencies when students are a danger to themselves or others.

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.

Advocates were pleased at the House vote.

"The passage of [the bill] in the House is a major step forward in protecting the human rights, dignity, and safety of not only children with disabilities, but all children," Barbara Trader, executive director of TASH, a disability-rights advocacy group, said in a written statement. "The responsibility of ensuring these protections now rests with the Senate, and we urge all members to act responsibly and promptly on this critical matter."

A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, but no action has been scheduled on that bill.

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