Harkin Introduces “Keeping All Students Safe Act,” Legislation That Would Establish Safe School Culture for Students and Teachers, Prohibit the Use of Dangerous Seclusion and Restraints Practices
WASHINGTON, D.C.—At a news conference in Washington today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, unveiled the findings of an investigation into the use of seclusion and restraints. Harkin’s investigation found that under current law, a family whose child has been injured, experienced trauma, or died as a result of the use of seclusion or restraints in school has little or no recourse through school procedures or the courts.
At the event, Harkin announced the introduction of the Keeping All Students Safe Act, a bill to ensure the effective implementation of positive behavioral interventions in our nations’ schools. The legislation will help schools establish a safe and engaging learning culture for teachers and students alike, and will bar the use of seclusion in locked, unattended rooms or enclosures. The bill also prohibits almost all uses of restraint procedures in schools. A summary of the bill can be seen here.
“This report shows in stark detail that families whose children are being subjected to dangerous seclusion and restraint practices have little or no recourse through school procedures or thorough the courts,” Harkin said. “These practices provide no educational benefit, yet unsupervised seclusion and physical restraints are being used thousands of time each year against our nation’s school children.
“My goal is to bring about change—to stop the use of seclusion and to severely limit the use of restraints in schools, and to provide teachers and school leaders with the resources to replace these antiquated techniques with learning environments that engage students so incidences of challenging behaviors are decreased and learning in schools is optimized. The Keeping All Students Safe Act, which I am introducing today, will prohibit the use of seclusion and almost all uses of restraint, while ensuring that school personnel have the knowledge and resources available to respond, in a positive, supportive, and safe manner when challenging behaviors do occur.”
Chairman Harkin’s staff undertook an investigation in order to better understand the types of seclusion and restraints occurring in U.S. schools, and the obstacles faced by families seeking to stop the use of these practices or seeking restitution for harm caused by these practices. The investigation examined ten recent cases where children have suffered severe trauma and even loss of life as a result of these practices, and found that only eighteen states currently require parents be notified about the use of seclusion or restraints. In these ten cases across different states, children were significantly injured or had died due to the use of seclusion and restraints in their schools. For the students profiled in the report, their educational experiences were marred by the use of these practices with no educational benefits, often repeatedly for long periods of time over many instructional days that reduced the students’ learning opportunities.
The report also found certain commonalities across cases and states, including:
Harkin was joined at today’s event by the mother of a Minnesota student who was secluded and restrained in her elementary school years, as well as a young man from Massachusetts who was also secluded and restrained as a student. Dr. Michael George, Director of the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Centennial School, also joined Harkin to share how he reduced the use of restraints at the school from more than 1,000 incidents annually to less than five within one year. He also highlighted the ability of schools to work with children with severe emotional disturbances and significant challenging behaviors without using seclusion or restraints.
The report also makes recommendations for addressing the use of seclusion and restraints in schools, including:
The full investigation can be seen here.