Harkin releases school restraint and seclusion report, new legislation

Photo of a girl in a chair alone in a classroom
Seclusion & Restraint in school

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released the findings February 12 of an investigation into the use of controversial restraint and seclusion techniques in schools for responding to behaviors of children with disabilities.

Along with the report, the committee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) reintroduced the Keeping All Students All Safe Act, a bill to create the first federal standards regulating the practice.

“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 through the courts,” Sen. Harkin said in a news release. “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.”

The 54-page report calls for the complete ban of restraint and seclusion methods as a disciplinary technique, allowing them only for times when there is an imminent threat of serious harm to the student or to others. The report also calls for increased training programs for educators and a requirement that parents be notified within 24 hours when these techniques are used.

In addition, the report also calls for an amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation’s governing law for special education programs, to allow families to bring civil lawsuits against educators who use these techniques before having to exhaust all their administrative remedies.

These recommendations are also included in the latest version of the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which Harkin has introduced on multiple occasions. A companion bill in the House of Representatives, from Rep. George Miller (D-CA) was also introduced last year.

“The Arc is concerned with the well-being of students as well as school personnel and we support national standards that focus on preventing behavior problems and promoting a positive and safe school climate,” said, Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, in a blog post. “Children with disabilities have disproportionately high rates of being restrained and secluded in schools, and reports of this type of discipline going wrong and leading to harm of the child are all too common. We urge Senators to act quickly to protect all students in all schools by supporting this important legislation.”