Bill would further limit use of seclusion, restraint in schools

By Allison Kite, February 09, 2016

Kansas lawmakers are considering expanding prohibitions on schools using seclusion and restraint as punishment. Advocates for students with developmental disabilities have called for such prohibitions for years, and last session the Legislature passed House Bill 2170 to limit seclusion and restraint.

But Tori Donahue told the House Children and Seniors Committee during a Tuesday hearing that her son’s school district confined him in a small room by using an exemption in the law that allows emergency seclusion and restraint for students who present an immediate danger of physical harm.

“Society justifies it by instilling fear, using trigger words such as ‘safety’ and ‘danger’ to describe these individuals — which became commonly used after the passing of HB 2170,” she said.  

Donahue supports a new proposal, House Bill 2534, which would require the schools to contact parents the same day an emergency seclusion or restraint is used and allow them to request a meeting with school officials to discuss it within 10 days.

HB 2534, which comes from a task force’s recommendations, also would prohibit chemical and mechanical restraint. Chemical restraint is the use of medication to restrain a child’s behavior, and mechanical restraint is the use of a device or object, including handcuffs, to restrict a child’s behavior.

Except in a case where the child could cause harm to others, educators would not be able to use emergency safety interventions on children with medical conditions that could put them in danger of mental or physical harm.

Several parents of children with special needs testified in support of HB 2534, including Aldona Carney. She said her son Neil, who has severe autism, was placed in seclusion without her knowledge when he was younger.

One day, she said, she paid an unannounced visit to his school and was told he had been placed in seclusion for aggression toward staff. When she was taken to the room, which she said was no larger than a closet, she could hear Neil screaming. She asked staff to open the door, and Neil was naked and had urinated on the floor.

“Sadly, I have no idea how many times Neil was put into the seclusion room prior to this incident because we were never notified by the school,” she said.

Donahue’s son Drake moved from the Blue Valley school district to Olathe last year. She said he had a behavior plan in Blue Valley and had never been subject to seclusion, but in Olathe he was. A room she estimated to be 4-feet by 5-feet adjacent to his classroom served as the “safe room.”

“The district calls it a safe room, but I’m going to call it what it is. It’s a prison cell,” she said.

Some members of the Emergency Safety Intervention Task Force testified against the bill or stood neutral because it didn’t include all of the task force’s recommendations. The task force was established when the original law passed last year and provided input for the drafting of HB 2534.

The committee plans another hearing on HB 2534 at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online.

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