House Committee Passes Bill to Ban Physical Restraint in Schools

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 9:06 PM EST

A bi-partisan group of legislators from the House Education and Labor Committee has approved a bill that will protect students, especially those with special needs, from teachers who use restraint and seclusion as punishment.

According to a Government Accountability Office report published last spring, special education teachers have disciplined students by sitting on them or strapping them into devices that look like electric chairs. Many children have survived such torture, albeit with physical and emotional scars, but for others like Cedric Price, whose mother spoke before lawmakers at a committee hearing last May, the treatment was fatal.

Though the GAO report speculates that this type of abuse is widespread, and even though there are laws protecting children from such abuses in hospitals and other facilities that receive federal health funding, there are currently no federal laws addressing restraint and seclusion in schools. The bill now awaits a full vote in the House before it moves onto the Senate. “This bill makes clear that there is no place in our schools for abuse and torture,” said committee chair Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). “The egregious abuse of a child should not be considered less criminal because it happens in a classroom—it should be the opposite."

The bill will apply to public and private schools, but it's uncertain what effect it would have on residential treatment centers like the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts, which uses electric shocks to discipline its special needs students. At very least, the bill would establish national reporting standards, documenting for the first time the frequency and number of students being restrained or secluded.

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