On December 16th, the 23-page federal bill, S.2020, called the Keeping All Students Safe Act was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). The bill is designed “To protect all school children against harmful and life-threatening seclusion and restraint practices” (official bill found here) which have both lead to death in the autism community. The bill also has the support of the Nation Autism Association (NAA).
According to the press release from the NAA, in the last five years, about 200 children have died due to seclusion and the use of dangerous restraints in school. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study that looked at many reported cases of abuse and death within schools. The findings were appalling and eye opening to say the least. One case study was about a 4 year old girl diagnosed with autism and born with cerebral palsy from a West Virginia public school. This four year old girl had “suffered bruising and post traumatic stress disorder after teachers restrained her in a wooden chair with leather straps—described as resembling a miniature electric chair—for being ‘uncooperative.’” Reports also showed students had been duct taped to their desks, put in seclusion for hours for whistling or slouching and a young girl tied to her chair and abused. In many cases, students have died from compression to the chest or smothering due to the improper execution of restraining. In one case, a child died from hanging himself in a seclusion room.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is the case study in the GAO report about a 14 year old boy in Texas who died when the 230 lb. special education teach placed the boy, only weighing 129 lbs., into a prone restraint and then proceeded to lay on top of him because he would not stay seated. The boy died as a result of compression to the trunk. The death was ruled a homicide, however no charges were filed and the teacher was teaching at the time of the report (2009) at a school in Virginia and is licensed to teach students with disabilities.
The Keeping All Students Safe Act is aimed at reducing and ultimately eliminating the types of cases listed above and the countless others that go unreported on a daily basis. The bill’s four purposes are:
(1) to promote the development of effective intervention and prevention practices that do not use restraints and seclusion;
(2) to protect all students from physical or mental abuse, aversive behavioral interventions that compromise health and safety, and any restraint imposed for purposes of coercion, discipline or convenience, or as a substitute for appropriate educational or positive behavioral interventions and supports;
(3) to ensure that staff are safe from the harm that can occur from inexpertly using restraints; and
(4) to ensure the safety of all students and school personnel and promote positive school culture and climate.
Given that students with disabilities are most often subjected to this type of abusive behavior, the Keeping All Students Safe Act is a major milestone in protecting children on the spectrum.
In order for the bill to go into effect, the Senate has to pass it, then the house and finally it must be signed by the President. We will keep you updated as the bill goes through the process of full inclusion into the United States Congress.