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School Boards Group Wants Restraint, Seclusion Proposal Diluted

Although Congress doesn't seem poised to enact legislation about restraining and secluding students at school anytime soon, advocates and lobbyists continue to weigh in on how any future law should look.

At a Senate hearing on the issue last week, witnesses all spoke in favor of a law governing a practice that has a disproportionate effect on students with disabilities.

While there is a lot of support for federal legislation, as this letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disability illustrates, the support isn't universal. The American Association of School Administrators, for example, hates the idea of a federal law, and outlines its position in this report.

This week, the National School Boards Association weighed in, and this group seems to be somewhere in the middle, seeking a far less heavy-handed version of proposed federal legislation. The group's position is that any federal law must give districts as much flexibility as possible.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, hosted last week's hearing and is the sole sponsor of a bill in that chamber that would sharply restrict how and when students are restrained or isolated. A similar bill has been filed by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

The NSBA says the Senate bill sets too high a threshold for when school employees could restrain a student—only in the event of "serious bodily injury" to a staff member or another student as defined in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education law.

"To have a teacher or other staff have to determine if the level of injury will meet the IDEA definition before deciding to intervene is not workable," the NSBA says.

The NSBA also wants a requirement that schools hold a meeting with parents and school staff within five days of restraining or secluding students to be adjusted because these meetings could quickly become cumbersome.

Because restraints and seclusion are intended to be used in emergency situations, many advocates reject the idea of putting their use into students' education plans, and the Senate bill would ban that practice. Advocates argue that if these techniques are built into students' plans, there will be incentive to use them more frequently than just in true emergencies. But NSBA is among those who say physical restraints shouldn't be banned from education plans.

And lastly, NSBA says that the 39 states and the District of Columbia that already have guidance or policies about restraint and seclusion should be exempt from any federal law governing their use in schools.

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