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April 3, 2013

Bill limiting seclusion and restraint to discipline students moves ahead

INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation aimed at reducing the use of physical restraints and locked isolation rooms to discipline students continues to gain support in the General Assembly.

On Tuesday, the House education committee amended a Senate bill that requires public school districts to develop seclusion and restraint policies to include the state’s parochial and private schools as well.

The legislation, if passed, would require schools have policies in place by the 2014-15 school year and would require schools to train staff in the appropriate use of restraint and seclusion techniques, especially when used on children with physical and mental disabilities.

Backed by parents of children with special needs, Senate Bill 345 would also require schools to document and report to both parents and the state when those restraint and seclusion techniques are used.

The bill’s author, Republican Sen. Randy Head of Logansport, the bill doesn’t prevent teachers from disciplining students, but builds in protection for both teachers and students.

“We want safety for everybody,” Head said. “This bill protects everybody from getting hurt.”

The push for the legislation started last year, after the U.S. Department of Education released a study that found tens of thousands of students across the U.S. — most of them disabled — had been strapped down, physically restrained, or locked into isolation rooms by teachers or school staff to keep order in their classrooms. In some cases, the techniques led to injury and death.

Head wanted the legislation to apply to all schools — public, charter and private — but some private and charter schools lobbied to have non-public schools excluded from the bill.

On Tuesday, the House education committee put back into the bill the requirement that all accredited schools in Indiana – public, charter and private – be covered by the legislation.

“I’m conservative when it comes to putting additional mandates on schools, but the concern here is too important,” said Republican state Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, who wrote the amendment to cover all schools.

“This is about protecting vulnerable children,” Clere said. “There is no reason why this should cause any undue burden or excessive use of resources.”

Currently, the Indiana Department of Education encourages local school corporations to develop their own policies on the use of restraints and isolation techniques. But there is no requirement to do so.

“It’s a patchwork approach,” Clere said.

The legislation would require the state establish a commission that would develop a model policy that would be based on using locked isolation rooms and physical restraints as “last resort” techniques to keep students from harming themselves or others.

All schools would have to develop their own policies, using the commission’s model policy as a guide.

Though the legislation would cover all students — not just those with physical, mental or emotional disabilities — it has its strongest backing from organizations that advocate for children with special needs.

The U.S. Department of Education study released last year found that about 70 percent of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs.

The study also found that African-American and Hispanic students were also disproportionately isolated or restrained.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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