Note: See most recent update in the blog post just above, here.
10 Minute Activist! Tell Congress:
Support Restraint and Seclusion Bill and Keep it Strong!
PLEASE CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE AND ASK HIM/HER TO COSPONSOR The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act [pdf] (H.R. 4247), AND TO TAKE TWO ACTIONS DESIGNED TO KEEP PROTECTIONS STRONG. See instructions at the end. If you have time, please also call your Senators and ask them to cosponsor the Senate Bill, S. 2860. However, the House Bill is moving quickly and grassroots action is urgent.
(Update: The National Call-in Day on Thursday, 1/21, had a real impact, and sincere thanks to all who participated! But if you haven't called Congress yet, there's still time, and the House Bill remains an urgent priority as of late January to early February 2010.)
(1) Ask your Congressional Representative to cosponsor the bill. It will go far to strengthen the rights of children with disabilities, prohibiting the use of restraint and seclusion unless there is an imminent risk of physical injury that less restrictive interventions would not stop. Schools could not use mechanical and chemical restraints or restraints the impede breathing. The techniques must end when the emergency ends; no longer will children be kept in seclusion room or restraints for hours. Schools must notify parents within 24 hours; no school will be able to hide abuse. The bill will create stronger protections for children in many states that do not currently have laws or regulations. (See this table [pdf] for more information.) And it will ensure that states with good laws that are below the federal minimum bring them up to par.
(2) Ask Congress to make sure it keeps the bill section that bans putting restraint and seclusion in an IEP, BIP, or other individual educational planning document, (Section 5(a)(4)). Don’t let Congress create one rule for kids without disabilities and a different, more dangerous rule for kids with disabilities. According to the GAO, children with disabilities are at the greatest risk for being abused.
The new law is designed to make schools use less-restrictive interventions unless they would fail. Writing restraint and seclusion into the IEP will only encourage schools to use abusive techniques, instead. Too often, parents have been misled into consenting to restraint and seclusion in IEPs only to find out their children have been abused, injured, and traumatized. School districts are pressing to remove this provision. Prevent school districts from getting around the law by putting abusive interventions in the IEP.
(3) Ask Congress to amend the bill to include rooms that are unlocked but children are physically prevented from exiting. The bill currently applies only to locked seclusion (Sec. 4; applying definition 42 U.S.C. 290jj(d)(4)). Staff should not be allowed to hold doors shut or block them with furniture to imprison children with no protections. A child who uses a wheelchair but cannot operate it or a child with other motor disabilities may be secluded with the door open. Schools could use cheap child-proofing to prevent children with motor disabilities from opening a door that their peers could easily open. Because the rooms are technically unlocked, the protections in the bill would not apply to them.
In its national report on restraint and seclusion, Unsafe in the Schoolhouse [pdf], Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates documented many instances of children confined in unlocked rooms from which they cannot exit. And at least 1/3 of the seclusion cases in the National Disability Rights Network's (NDRN) School Is Not Supposed to Hurt [pdf] involved unlocked rooms from which children could not exit. Ask Congress to amend the bill so schools cannot manipulate this technicality.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION. A full analysis of the bill is available on Wrightslaw here: http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/restraint.hr4247.butler.htm. This analysis includes additional explanation of the points above, as well as additional aspects of the bill that are good or that can be strengthened. The bill was introduced on December 9, 2009. Mark up (revision and approval by the full committee) of the House bill is expected in early 2010.
TAKE ACTION! CALL OR EMAIL CONGRESS!.
Please call your Representative ASAP. When you call or write, be sure to include the bill’s name, “The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act,” and its number (H.R. 4247).
Telephone/TTY: Call your Congressional Representative at 202-224-3121 (TTY 202-225-1904). This is the switchboard, so you will need to know your Representative’s name. When you are connected, ask for the aide who handles education or disability. If you get voicemail, please leave a message. You can also find direct dial numbers, fax numbers, and local numbers on your Representative’s webpage at http://www.house.gov.
Email: If you need to use email, go to http://www.house.gov/writerep for the House of Representatives. A call is always best because it is personal, but email is helpful too.
Find Out Who Your Congressional Representative is: If you do not know who your Congressional Representative is, go to http://www.house.gov and put your zip code into the box in the upper left corner. (You usually only need your five digit zip code.)
This action alert was prepared by Jessica Butler, Esquire, and the mother of a child with autism and an attorney who lives in Virginia. She served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) in 2007-08, and was a primary coordinator of COPAA’s Congressional Affairs program while on the Board of Directors in 2004-2009. She is the author of Unsafe in the Schoolhouse: Abuse of Children with Disabilities [pdf] (COPAA 2009). She addressed AutCom's 2009 Conference on restraints, seclusion and aversives and is a strong supporter of AutCom's principles. You can reach Jessica at jessicabutler-at-ymail.com (replace "-at-" with "@).