Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), and Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued a joint statement today in response to new legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The new bill would reduce the authority of states and local school districts to decide the appropriate use of restraint and seclusion in public schools. Restraint and seclusion are used as a last resort in situations that may endanger the safety and welfare of students, teachers and other school personnel.
We agree with Harkin that routine use of restraint and seclusion is indeed inappropriate. However, we believe this legislation is a federal overreach—it fails to recognize the need for local school personnel to make decisions based on their onsite, real-time assessment of the situation. This includes school officials’ consideration of lesser interventions before making the decision to use restraint or seclusion. Our primary concern must be the safety of all students and school personnel.
Seclusion and restraint are only exercised to protect students and school personnel when other measures fail. A 2011 survey of AASA members found that 70 percent of districts invest local funds in annual training to ensure that school personnel use seclusion and restraint judiciously, first engaging in de-escalation techniques and other nonviolent crisis intervention strategies.
Of equal importance, we’re also concerned that the bill would allow parents to go to court without first exercising administrative procedures afforded to them under the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This bypass encourages litigation and diminishes congressional intent that parents and school districts collaborate to address student special needs. We’re also concerned that the federal court system does not have the capacity to take on these additional cases.
Even with limited funding, local school board and school administrator policies continue to demonstrate best practices beyond state requirements on the use of seclusion and restraint. This is further supported by a 2011 survey, in which nine out of 10 superintendents said their school districts would benefit from additional funding to implement school-wide positive behavioral support and intervention systems and nonviolent crisis interventions.
We urge Harkin to reconsider his position and work closely with local school boards and superintendents to develop legislation that ensures maximum authority to local school districts while ensuring safety for all students.