NEW YORK, N.Y. (December 9, 2009) Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, today endorsed the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247), which would establish federal standards to protect students -- including those with autism and other disabilities -- from misuse of restraint and seclusion and improve classroom safety for students and staff alike.
Introduced by U.S Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the bi-partisan legislation would apply to public schools, private schools and preschools that receive federal funding. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is expected to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
Key provisions of the bill would establish minimum safety standards in schools, limit physical restraint and locked seclusion to instances when there is imminent danger of injury, outlaw the use of mechanical restraints, and encourage states to provide relevant training to staff. In addition, the bill would prohibit aversive interventions that compromise health and safety, such as denying students water, food, or clothing and denying access to toilet facilities. Schools would not be permitted to include restraint or seclusion as planned interventions in students education plans, and they would be required to notify parents when restraint or seclusion was used.
Children with autism, many of whom are non-verbal or have other communications challenges, are especially vulnerable to dangerous interventions at school by staff who can at times be ill-prepared to deal with their unique behavioral issues, said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services. This legislation is an important step toward ending inhumane treatment of children with autism and other disabilities, who like all students should be able to trust their educators and feel completely safe in their school environment.
According to the House Committee on Education and Labor web site, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last spring detailed hundreds of cases of students being abused as a result of inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion, often involving untrained staff. In some cases, children died. A disproportionate number of these victims were students with disabilities.