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Oregon Bill Seeks to Ban Most Use of Restraints, Seclusion

A bill that would ban school districts from restraining or secluding public schoolchildren in most cases and require training for the small numbers of school personnel who employ these practices is making its way through the Oregon legislature.

Although Oregon, like many other states, has a state policy limiting the use of these measures, the organization Disability Rights Oregon found that it's difficult to tell how often they are really used. The report, from earlier this year, said that only 37 of Oregon's 197 school districts compiled data on the use of restraint and seclusion for a one-year period. In those districts, there were approximately 4,500 restraint or seclusion incidents.

"If these numbers are indicative of the other districts who did not submit data, Oregon's statewide restraint and seclusion rate would top 10,000 incidences for one school year," the authors wrote.

The report notes that one Oregon district reported two elementary school students who were restrained or secluded more than 90 times each in the course of one school year. Another district noted some restraints lasted up to two hours at a time.

A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on schoolchildren during the past two decades

The Oregon bill (House bill 2939) got an initial hearing last week and has a companion bill in the state Senate. It needs a full hearing in the House and then it would move to the Senate's education committee, the staff of sponsor Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) tells me.

In most circumstances, the bill would ban restraint and seclusion. If necessary because a student is in immediate danger of hurting someone, including himself or herself, such measures can only be done by someone at the school certified in those practices using a program created by the state's department of human services. Kids have to be given access to water and a bathroom every 30 minutes of the seclusion, and every 15 minutes after the first 30 minutes a school administrator has to provide written authorization to extend the exclusion that includes documentation about why the restraint or seclusion must be continued.

The proposed law would ban prone restraints—in which children are face down, mechanical restraints such as duct tape, handcuffs, or straps, and chemical restraints including medications and drugs.

Disability Rights Oregon said although state regulations address the issue, a law is needed because the state education department can't enforce its own rules or hold districts accountable for violating them. In its report, the group said 67 districts did not respond to public records requests, "so we don't know if they have a policy, and if they do, whether that policy complies with the
administrative rules."

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