There may be a dwindling number of issues with bipartisan support, but protecting students from abusive restraints and seclusion is one of them. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of House Education and Labor Committee members unveiled the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, which will, for the first time, bar teachers' use of dangerous restraint techniques except as a last resort.
Introduced by a seemingly "odd couple" of legislators—conservative Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and liberal Committee Chair George Miller (D-Calif.)—the legislation comes six months after the Government Accountability Office released a report detailing how frequently students are restrained and secluded by inexperienced or poorly trained teachers. The GAO reported hundreds of abuse allegations in nearly every state. The results of the abuse were far-ranging, everything from student anxiety disorders and depression, to broken bones and even death. Though children are protected against such abuses in other federally funded facilities (e.g. hospitals) they are not yet protected in the schools where they spend most of their time.
So far, state laws and their enforcement have been flawed, one Texas mother learned tragically. At a 2008 Congressional hearing, mother Toni Price spoke about her son Cedric's deadly encounter with restraints applied by educators. After being denied his lunch for refusing to do his school work, Price said Cedric was caught trying to leave his classroom, presumably because he was hungry.
"After Cedric attempted to leave the classroom, he refused to sit back down in his chair, so the teacher forced him into his chair and restrained him. She is roughly six feet tall, weighs over 230 lbs. Cedric was short. He was little - he was a little boy. Cedric struggled as he was being held in a chair, so the teacher put him face down and sat on him. He struggled and said repeatedly, 'I can't breathe.' 'If you can talk, If you can speak, you can breathe,' [the teacher] snapped at him.
Shortly after that, he stopped speaking, and he stopped struggling, and he stopped moving. The teacher continued to restrain him. Finally, the teacher ... and aides put Cedric back into his chair and wiped the drool from his mouth and sat him up, but he slumped over and slipped out of the chair. Precious moments passed before a nurse was called. I rushed to the school not completely clear of what was going on and what was happening. When I got to the school, my son was laying on the floor with a paramedic beside him. I kneeled down and said 'Cedric, get up, you're not going to be in trouble,' but Cedric didn't move. Instead, the paramedic stood me up. My son was dead. I didn't know the school was practicing restraint techniques on Cedric. I didn't even know they were withholding food as a punishment."