Ban on Dangerous School Restraint Sought in Democratic Bill

  • Black children, those with disabilities most often targeted
  • GAO report found school systems underreport incidents

Congressional Democrats are making a renewed push to ban schools from using harmful physical restraint and seclusion — practices most often used for students with disabilities.

Recent media reports have found widespread misuse of student restraint and failures to report incidents to the Education Department, leading to new calls for federal intervention.

House and Senate lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to prohibit schools that receive federal funds from isolating students who act out and to restrict their use of physical restraints.

School staff could only restrain students if they’ve been certified and the student poses an imminent danger. Parents would have to be notified after an incident.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said thousands of students are subject to seclusion and restraint practices that have been shown to make schools less safe.

“It’s time we recognize that a quality education cannot be achieved without a safe learning environment,” he said in a statement.

Classroom
Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are sponsoring their chamber’s version of the bill. The legislation was previously introduced in 2018.

Reporting Failures

Nearly eight out of 10 students who were physically restrained or isolated had a disability, according to Education Department data. Black boys are disproportionately involved in those incidents.

The department recorded more than 100,000 incidents of restraint or seclusion in K-12 schools in the 2017-18 academic year, but the numbers likely understate the extent of those practices. A 2019 Government Accountability Office report found that major school districts inaccurately reported restraint or seclusion of students and a subsequent report found inaccurate data submitted by districts of all sizes.

Some districts didn’t collect any data on those incidents in 2015-16 as required by federal law. The Democrats’ bill would require that states track and report data on school restraint and seclusion annually and make it publicly available.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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