Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Protecting the Legal and Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
|End Use of Restraint, Aversives, Seclusion|
Every Child has the Right to Be
COPAA is concerned about the use of restraints, seclusion and aversive interventions as part of educational programs for children with disabilities. Restraints, seclusion and aversive interventions are neither educational nor effective. Instead, their harms and dangers are well-documented. Inappropriately used, they amount to child abuse.
Restraints include physical force, mechanical devices or drugs that temporarily restrict freedom of movement or control behavior. Seclusion includes the use of locked rooms or other spaces from which students are unable to leave voluntarily. Aversive procedures use painful stimuli in response to behaviors that are deemed unacceptable by their caregivers. All aversive techniques have in common the application of physically or emotionally painful stimuli.
Children should receive effective positive behavior supports developed within a comprehensive, professionally-developed plan of behavioral accommodations, supports, and interventions. But, too often school personnel who have not been thoroughly trained in research-validated methods for promoting positive behavior change and crisis de-escalation resort to inappropriate abusive methods. Abusive methods not only place the student at risk of serious physical and psychological harm, but also violate his or her dignity and right to be free from abusive treatment.
Although some states have standards and regulations regarding restraints, seclusion and aversive interventions, the existing laws are not uniform and may not be enforced. Other states provide little or no protection for children at all. Because there is no monitoring on a national level, the full extent of death, injuries, and harm from the use of these techniques is unknown.
Every child is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. No child with a disability should be subjected to abusive treatment under the guise of providing educational services. Civilized nations protect the human rights of all of their citizens and residents, particularly those who are unable to advocate for themselves, including children.
COPAA Continues Work towards Passage of Federal Bills Addressing the Use of Restraints, Seclusion and Aversives in Schools
We believe a federal bill is necessary to set forth minimum standards for states to protect children from what has historically been unacceptable use of these methods and set up a structure to prevent future abuse. COPAA was privileged to have the opportunity to work with other stakeholders in helping to draft federal bills currently before Congress, and although significant concerns remain, COPAA supports H.R. 1381 and S. 2020 as a critical step toward acknowledging this widespread problem and improving the protection of children.
It is well-documented that the use of restraint and seclusion in schools is neither effective nor therapeutic. Instead, it is mentally and physically abusive. Despite this, thousands of cases of restraint and seclusion occur in our nation's schools annually, often with tragic results.
For years, the use of restraint, seclusion, and aversives in schools was unpublicized and little-known, despite its widespread use. However, recent reports and congressional testimony by COPAA, the National Disability Rights Network, and the U.S. General Accounting Office have served to shine a spotlight on these abusive practices. See e.g., Unsafe in the Schoolhouse: Abuse of Children with Disabilities, COPAA (2009); School is Not Supposed to Hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools, NDRN (2009); Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers (GAO-09-719T). As stated in the findings section "physical restraint and seclusion have resulted in physical injury, psychological trauma, and death to children in public and private schools” H.R. 1381 and S. 2020 and their predecessors acknowledge that existing laws have not adequately protected students, while also affirming the critical importance of preserving existing state and federal laws that already offer some protection.
COPAA is a national organization of parents, advocates and attorneys dedicated to protecting the civil and educational rights of children with disabilities, whose members represent families in 48 States and the District of Columbia. As such, COPAA believes this legislation is a crucial first step toward the ultimate goals of eliminating abuse and restraint in schools, limiting use of restraint and seclusion to true emergencies, and assuring that children who exhibit challenging behaviors obtain appropriate, safe, and effective educational services.
Specifically, COPAA supports the following provisions of the federal bills:
We believe these provisions are critical to provide a minimum floor of protection that does not yet exist in all states and highlights the need for all states to raise the bars of protection and safety in every state, for all students.
The definition of seclusion must apply not only to locked seclusion rooms (which schools sometimes call, among other things, opportunity rooms or quiet rooms) but to other unlocked rooms and spaces from which children cannot exit. This would include locations where staff holds doors shut, slide furniture in front of the door, or use other mechanisms that prevent children from leaving a room without its door being locked. This definition would also extend to the child in a wheelchair who is left alone and prevented from leaving a room simply due to her inability to operate the wheelchair.
COPAA looks forward to continuing its partnership with the Members of Congress who are committed to passage of federal protection and is proud of the significant role played in the construct of a federal bill.
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