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Restraint and Seclusion, Gifted Education Among Amendments to ESEA Bill

States would be required to adopt policies to prevent unnecessary use of restraint and seclusion in schools, and a federal gifted education grant program would be reauthorized for six years, under amendments that were added this week to the proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. 

The Senate education committee unanimously approved the bill Thursday. Its next step is debate before the full Senate, but as my colleagues at Politics K-12 have pointed out, the bill may be difficult to schedule as the Senate has a full plate of other action ahead of it. 

The restraint and seclusion amendement was brought forward by Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut. It would require state departments of education to develop plans to protect students from abuse, aversive interventions that compromise their safety, or any "physical restraint for seclusion imposed solely for purposes of discipline or convenience." 

The gifted education amendment came from retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, also a Democrat. Mikulski has been a longtime champion of gifted education. The amendment would continue authorization of the federal Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Education program, which was just funded for $10 million in the fiscal 2015 budget. Javits grants go to researchers who study best practices in identifying and teaching underrepresented populations. 

"Serving students who are low-achieving is important, but so is nurturing students who have high ability and enormous potential. I believe we need to know more about these kids, and our teachers need to know how to help these children achieve and succeed," Mikulski said in a statement introducing her amendment. 

Dyslexia Amendment Fails

Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican Senator from Louisiana, attempted to introduce an amendment that would allow schools to use federal funds to train teachers in best practices in identifying and educating students with specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. About 40 percent of the students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have a specific learning disability. 

The amendment failed, amid concerns that it singled out a particular group of students for special treatment. 

"I think it gives the impression, whether it's intended or not, that students with certain types of learning disabilities have more pressing needs than other students with disabilities," said Barbara R. Trader, the executive director of TASH, a Washington-based support and advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities.

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