Keeping all Students Safe

Protecting Students in the Classroom

Senator Tom Harkin images at different ages in his history of service.Dear ABILITY Readers,

Last month, I introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act, a bill to protect students from dangerous seclusion and restraint practices in schools. All too often, we hear heartbreaking stories about children being injured or even killed because of risky and inappropriate “disciplinary” tactics used at school. Many of the students subjected to these practices have a disability.

Cases such as the recent instance of a young boy with autism being stuffed into a gym bag, or the tragic one in which a young girl with autism in Iowa died because of lack of supervision when she was in seclusion, underscore the urgency of this problem.

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In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that use of restraints and seclusion have led to physical injury and psychological trauma for thousands of students in public and private schools throughout the country. The GAO has estimated that more than 200 students died due to restraint or seclusion in school over the preceding five years. This is unacceptable.

Students should never be subjected to abusive or violent disciplinary strategies. The patchwork of state laws addressing this issue leaves millions of children vulnerable. That’s why this bill sets long-overdue minimum standards for protecting children from physical and psychological harm and ensuring a safe learning environment for teachers and students alike. Every child should be educated in a supportive, caring, stimulating environment in which they are respected as an individual and provided with the tools they need to succeed.

This bill will prohibit the use of seclusion in locked and unattended rooms or enclosures. In addition, it will prohibit the use of mechanical and chemical restraints and physical restraints that restrict breathing or any aversive behavioral interventions that compromise health and safety.

Physical restraints would be allowed only in emergency situations, and in those instances only restraints that do not inhibit a student’s primary means of communication would be permitted. Seclusion and restraint may not be included as a component of a student’s individual education plan because there is significant evidence that including such practices in a student’s plan actually increases the use of those methods rather than decreasing them.

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Educating school officials and teachers about the dangers of seclusion and restraint will also help to protect students from dangerous practices. The bill calls on states to (1) promote training programs that will reduce the use of restraints and (2) collect data on the use of seclusion and restraint practices.

Schools will have to (1) meet with parents and staff after a restraint is used and (2) plan for positive behavioral interventions that will prevent the use of restraints in the future. Finally, the bill establishes a grant program to help states conduct programming and training for school personnel.

All of these policies add up to keeping both children and their teachers safer in school. I’m going to continue to fight here in Washington to ensure that children, especially those with disabilities, are not marginalized or endangered by these kinds of abusive practices. These standards are long overdue, and we must protect our nation’s children now.


Senator Tom Harkin (signature)

Senator Tom Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

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