Abuse or protection?

A proposed law aimed at preventing the fallout from what happened in a Willmar classroom (and, certainly, other schools) a few years ago goes to the House floor in Washington tomorrow.

The legislation — HR 4247 — establishes minimum safety standards in schools, and stipulates when physical restraint or locked seclusion can be used against students. It also requires states to report when restraint is used on students. (See bill)

It’s an area where everyone in school needs to get on the same page.

An example occurred in Willmar where a special ed teacher locked a disruptive student in a “time out” room rather than allow the student to use the bathroom. Some paraprofessionals complained that the teacher was abusing the student.

An administrative law judge concluded that there was no maltreatment, and that the paraprofessionals had disagreements with the teacher that fueled their accusation, but the Minnesota Department of Education refused to withdraw its finding that agreed with the allegations against the teacher.

A district court and then the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the ruling (See court decision).

The federal legislation (available here) might clear up what constitutes maltreatment, especially when disruptive behavior might affect the classroom.

Every state has a different approach to this. In Minnesota, revised legislation goes into effect next year clarifying when restraint can be used:

(1) restrictive procedures be the least intrusive intervention to respond to the emergency; (2) the child be directly observed during the course of the procedures; and (3) the school document each use of the procedures. Provides that restrictions end when the threat of harm ends. Requires same day notification to parents. Limits implementation of the procedures to licensed, trained staff. Prohibits, among other things: (1) withholding food; (2) preventing bathroom access; and (3) physical holding that restricts the child’s ability to breathe.

It is certainly an emotional issue as these comments about the bill on WashingtonWatch.com attest:

As a teacher of children with Autism, I support 90% of what this bill proposes. BUT: the requirement that makes it illegal for schools to write restraint or seclusion into a student’s individualized behavior plan could be EXTRAORDINARILY HARMFUL to the students I work with. For students with dangerous behaviors, planning for and customizing the use of restraint for that individual student’s behaviors allows us to use it least often and most effectively. It also ensures that the parent/guardian has signed on, fully understands what may occur, and has given consent. If students are only allowed to be restrained in emergency situations without any planning or criteria, there is a GREATER risk or harm or excessive force. PLEASE tell your congressperson to reconsider the language in this bill, so that we can continue to offer our students the least restrictive, effective treatment we can, as they are entitled to.

And countered by another parent of a child with autism:

Don’t forget Autistic Children are tactile defensive. In my son’s case it sent him into an anxiety attack and made the situation worse. And had a residual effect on how I was able to calm him after those periods of restraint.

They need this Bill to pass for their protection. Most times like my son, he doesn’t come and tell me what happened. This Bill will be his voice!

The bill made it to the House floor after passing through the Committee on Education and Labor last month on a 34-to-10 vote. The lone Minnesota representative on the committee — Rep. John Kline — voted against it.

  • Cathy Boyle

    As a parent of an 18 year old with both severe aggressive and self-injurious behaviors, I agree with the need for an INDIVIDUALIZED written plan. It specifies when, how and by whom my child can be restrained, as well as how to safely exit the restraint. If this bill is not fixed to permit written plans, it will increase the likelihood of my son being injured, and of him injuring others.