US senator introduces bill for nationwide reform on student restraint practice

Tens of thousands of students with special needs are physically restrained in school each year. It's a practice many education advocates consider barbaric.

Walt Kane

Jun 2, 2023, 2:52 AM

Updated 416 days ago

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Tens of thousands of students with special needs are physically restrained in school each year. It's a practice many education advocates consider barbaric. New Jersey has reformed the practice once before due to a Kane In Your Corner investigation. Now, a United States senator is trying to regulate the practice nationwide.
"They hold my legs," says 7-year-old Sherman Baskerville. "They’ll have me down on the ground and, every time, I can’t move."
Sherman is describing what happens to him on a regular basis at his elementary school in Cliffwood. The people pinning him down aren't classmates. They're his teachers using state-sanctioned tactics. Shanice Baskerville says her son has been traumatized.
"He didn't want to go to school," she says. "He just blew up one day. It was like, ‘Mommy, they’re hurting me’. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘They’re putting me in restraints.’”
The Sherman family isn't alone. More than 100,000 students are physically restrained or locked into seclusion rooms each year, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. Those figures are almost certainly too low because most states don't document each instance. New Jersey just started keeping track this year.
Kane In Your Corner first investigated the restraint of students in 2014. New Jersey lawmakers responded by passing a law requiring districts to notify parents when their kids are restrained, train staff on how to restrain kids safely and limit the use of restraint to cases where there is an "imminent danger.”
But a follow-up Kane In Your Corner investigation this year found some districts are still holding kids down three and four times a day, sometimes for an hour or more at a time.
"Here's the question we should be asking ourselves," says Ross Greene, founding director of the nonprofit group, Lives in the Balance. "How come our educators are finding themselves in a crisis with these students so often?"
Greene and many other advocates say the law has become part of the problem. They contend restraint is overused, in part because school staff are being trained to do it. Kane In Your Corner found that in districts where staff are also trained in other techniques, cases of restraint drop dramatically.
Now, Sen. Chris Murphy (D - Connecticut) has introduced legislation to limit the use of restraint nationwide. Murphy says he considers restraint a civil rights issue because it is often used on disabled kids. He says more than 80 children have died "because professionals put their hands on them."
Among other things, Murphy's bill would require staff to be trained, not just in restraint, but in techniques proven to prevent the need for it. Schools would only be allowed to restrain students when less restrictive options would be ineffective. And restraint would have to end as soon as the immediate danger passed. And, in what Murphy says he considers "the most important part,” if restraint does happen, schools would have to meet with parents to devise strategies to avoid doing it again.
Murphy’s bill faces a challenge. It’s been introduced in various forms since 2009. While the second largest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, recently decided to support the legislation, some education groups oppose it. The American Association of School Administrators even released a report saying restraint can be good because it helps students with behavioral problems to be educated in public schools.
For parents like Shanice Baskerville, some kind of reform can't come soon enough. "I kept saying, 'stop doing it to my child' but they weren't listening," she says. "They need to stop."
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