Friday, January 06, 2012

Keeping All Student Safe Act - An Open Letter

Over the years, I have learned about the use of restraint and seclusion being used as a disciplinary tool in our schools. For some children, it has meant severe mental anguish after being locked in a closet during school hours or, in a recent case, forced into a duffel bag, zipped into it until his mother could get to the school and free him. For other children, the use of restraint has resulted in injuries from being duct taped or tied into chairs. Some schools have specially made restraint chairs! The use of restraint has led to some children's death.


While these disciplinary actions happens across the board with all children, it is an area of extreme concern in the special needs community. Children, young adults and adults within special needs community can easily victimized by teachers, aids and may not be able to communicate what is happening to their parents and/or caregivers.

My son Dylan, unfortunately, experienced being restrained this summer. He has a one-on-one advocate (she's worked with him for the past two years, is the parent of a special needs child herself, handles Dylan wonderfully and he adores her). He was angry at her because she wasn't letting him have his way. He was flapping his arms, telling her he was mad at her and he was going to walk away. Now, this is typical of Dylan when he gets angry and we have all worked hard to teach him that sometimes you just need to take yourself out of a frustrating situation and regroup. His Advocate knew this, was comfortable with this and had numerous situations where he responded this way and they worked through things in about 5-10 minutes. However, this particular day she was being shadowed by her supervisor who decided that my 3'11" tall, 47 pound son posed a physical threat to his advocate and physically restrained him, bruising his wrists in the process. I was furious. We had no legal recourse against this woman. There are no laws currently to protect our children. As I type this, she's teaching pre-school for special needs children. While we didn't expect her to lose her regular job, there is no database to track this behavior. We were lucky - the bruise and the memory faded quickly for him... but not for me.

Restraint can be necessary. It's important that the teachers and other caregivers have the means to protect the students, themselves and anyone else who may be in the middle of a situation. However, people have gone overboard. People have needlessly died.

US Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) who crafted the American With Disabilities Act, has introduced the S. 2020: Keeping All Students Safe Act. For a fantastic outline of what this Act will hopefully achieve, please see a post by Jessica Butler who is the Congressional Affairs Coordinator for the National Autism Committee at OUR Journey Through Autism.

Please, if you have taken the time to read this, please take a few extra minutes and read the legislation and support it. Email Jessica at jessica@jnba.net to share your support. If you have a story to share about seclusion and/or restraint, she'd love to hear them. If you don't, your support is enough. Contact your local senators and let them know that you want their support on this important piece of legislation.



Thank you for your time!

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