Federal Restraint and Seclusion Bill Passes House

Published: March 5, 2010

Following a federal investigation, the House of Representatives passed a bill, known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act (H.R. 4247), which would establish regulations for seclusion and restrain practices by schools.

In response to a recent government investigation that found widespread allegations that children were being abused through misuses of restraint and seclusion in classrooms, the U.S. House of Representatives approved on March 3 bipartisan legislation to protect children from inappropriate uses of these practices in schools.

“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,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.Unlike in hospitals, currently, no federal laws address how and when restraint can be used on children in public or private schools.

The Keeping All Students Safe Act would establish minimum federal standards to provide equal protections to students. It would make clear that physical restraint or locked seclusion should be used only when there is imminent danger of injury and should only when imposed by trained staff. It would prohibit mechanical restraints, such as strapping children to chairs, misusing therapeutic equipment to punish students or duct-taping parts of their bodies and any restraint that restricts breathing.

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It would also prohibit chemical restraint, which are medications used to control behavior that are not consistent with a doctor’s prescription.

The bill would prohibit school staff from including restraint or seclusion as planned interventions in student’s education plans known as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). It would also require schools to notify parents immediately after incidents when restraint or seclusion was used.

“This critical piece of legislation confronts the unimaginable situation in schools across the country whereby some of our nation’s most vulnerable children are treated in an inhumane and degrading manner,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), original sponsor of the legislation. “The thousands of incidents reported by GAO and others together with the piecemeal approach taken by the states demonstrate the need for federal guidance.”

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last spring exposed hundreds of alleged cases of schoolchildren being abused as a result of inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion, often involving untrained staff. The victims were children as young as three and four, students with disabilities and without disabilities, who attended both public and private schools. In a number of cases, children died. In some of the cases investigated by the GAO, ropes, duct tape, and chairs with straps and bungee cords were used to restrain or isolate young children.

In many of the cases, parents only learned that their child was being restrained or secluded from a whistle-blowing teacher or when their child came home bruised.

The legislation would also ask states to have their own laws in place within two years that either meet or exceed these basic federal standards.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education, state laws on restraint and seclusion vary widely. Nineteen states have no laws at all. Of the 31 states that do have laws in place, many are not comprehensive enough to protect all students, in every kind of school.


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