By Meghan Gaffney
Capital News Service
Restraint and seclusion of students in public schools would be more carefully regulated under a bill that has cleared the Senate and is now before the House of Delegates.
Senate Bill 782, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, passed the Senate, 35-4, last week. It calls for the Virginia Board of Education to adopt regulations governing the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools. The regulations would cover training, parental notification and reporting requirements. Among other things, teachers would learn deescalation techniques, with the goal of calming a student before physical restraining becomes necessary.
Favola became involved in the issue as a member of the Virginia Commission on Youth, a bipartisan panel that addresses the needs of young people and families.
Abigail Fox, a legislative aide for the senator, said the commission studied seclusion and restraint, taking testimony from children and parents. The agency’s report led Favola to file SB 782, Fox said.
Restraint and seclusion are forms of behavioral intervention. Schools use them when a student is perceived to be a threat to themselves or those around them.
Restraint means the student is physically immobilized, or restricted in a way that reduces the child’s ability to move his or her torso, arms, legs or head freely. Seclusion means the student is placed in a room alone and is physically prevented from leaving.
The U.S. Department of Education found that restraint and seclusion were used predominantly on students with mental disabilities.
In a recent report, the department’s Office for Civil Rights said that in Virginia, students with disabilities make up 13 percent of the school enrollment but 76 percent of the students subjected to restraint at school. In 36 percent of those cases, the students were restrained with a mechanical device or equipment that limited their freedom of movement.
Some parents say restraint in schools is not always a bad thing.
Katherine Hays, who lives in Reston in Fairfax County, has a son with a learning disability. She said there is a right and wrong way to go about using restraint. “If it is used properly, and to stop the child from hurting themselves, then it’s OK,” Hays said.
Favola’s bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee.
Del. Dickie Bell, RStaunton, has filed a companion bill – HB 1443 – in the House. It won tentative approval Wednesday and is scheduled for a final vote Thursday.