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At Senate Hearing, Witnesses Offer Alternatives to Restraints, Seclusion

While many of the reports and previous testimony on the subject in the House have centered on horror stories in which students were severely injured or died because they were restrained or isolated without supervision, the witnesses who testified at this morning's Senate hearing on restraints and seclusion were generally measured and offered specific solutions for reducing their use, and misuse, in schools.

Today's hearing concentrated on how schools and students have and can avoid using restraints and seclusion and address the behavior that may have triggered those techniques to be employed in the first place. (That's some of what I wrote about in this story previewing the hearing.)

The training and planning that are required to avoid restraining and secluding students who may have a history of violent outbursts, diagnosed behavior or emotional disabilities, or other issues aren't necessarily an easy swap for simply holding down or whisking away students, said Daniel Crimmins, director of the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University.

He endorses using positive behavioral interventions and supports, in which educators screen students to identify areas of weakness and then use progressively intensive interventions to address them. "It is an approach proven to be effective, safe, and respectful of all," he said.

Debbie Jackson, the mother of 9-year-old Elijah, said positive reinforcement of good behavior was one of the ways her son was able to change his behavior. While he was enrolled at Centennial School in Bethlehem, Penn., a school for students with emotional and behavioral disorders, Elijah's behavior changed dramatically—although the school didn't hold him down or isolate him as the traditional public elementary school he had attended before Centennial had. After 2 1/2 years at Centennial, Elijah transferred out in March, and he will attend 4th grade in the fall as a full-time student in a regular classroom at a traditional elementary school.

"In many schools, so often the focus is on bad behaviors. That focus causes those behaviors to continue rather than eliminate them," Jackson said.

While the hearing's witnesses favored a federal law that would crack down on the use of restraint and seclusion—Sen. Harkin has sponsored this bill that would do just that, as would a similar bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., in the House—support for a law is far from universal.

The American Association of School Administrators opposes a federal law, and says school administrators must be able to restrain and seclude students. The organization outlines its position in this report, out this week. The Autism National Committee came out with a rebuttal of that report this morning.

And while a previous Miller bill passed the House when Democrats ruled that chamber, his current bill hasn't had a hearing.

House education committee chair John Kline, R-Minn., is concerned that federal intervention could obstruct state efforts to regulate the practices—several states have passed their own laws governing the use of restraints and seclusion—and federal action could thus do more harm than good.

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